PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, Wis. – Flooding on the swollen Mississippi River pushed downstream Thursday, inundating basements and streets as workers and residents rushed to shore up dikes and build sandbag levees.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott McCallum called in the National Guard to help distribute 20,000 sandbags Thursday as emergency crews fought the rising river in Crawford County.
"Our people that we've had out there sandbagging and trucking — they're starting to get tired," said county assistant emergency management director Gary Knickerbocker. "So, hopefully they'll be able to get some rest."
President Bush issued a statement at the White House, saying that he has directed FEMA director Joe Allbaugh to work with state and local officials as they track damage. Bush promised to monitor the flooding while he is in Canada this weekend for the Summit of the Americas.
The river climbed to 23.49 feet Thursday at Prairie du Chien, flooding the business district, and was expected to crest Friday at 23.8 feet, National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Jones said.
In 1965, the river topped out at a record 25.4 feet.
From her front porch, Lois Puckett surveyed flooded Main Street. Water lapped against her front steps, and the two-story home was surrounded by water on three sides. More than 300 sandbags were holding back the flood.
"I just hope it crests when they say it's going to crest," she said.
People in La Crosse, about 60 miles north of Prairie du Chien, were bracing themselves for rain predicted Thursday night, said county emergency management director Al Spaulding.
The Mississippi crested Wednesday at 16.41 feet at La Crosse, but dropped to 16.24 feet by Thursday, Spaulding said.
"The flood is by no means over, even though we reached this crest. We could get this rain and get a new crest — even higher," Spaulding said.
Amtrak said its passenger route between Chicago and Minneapolis remained closed by high water Thursday. Freight train traffic also was affected. The Mississippi River remained closed to barges and pleasure craft.
Further upstream, in St. Paul, Minn., the Mississippi crested Thursday at 23.4 feet — almost 10 feet above flood stage — and was expected to begin a slow fall over the next two weeks, the National Weather Service said.
In Davenport, Iowa, the only major urban area on the upper Mississippi that lacks flood control structures, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has helped the city build a clay levee reinforced with plastic and sandbags to keep floodwaters out of the riverfront business district.
The river was 3 feet above the 15-foot flood stage Thursday. The National Weather Service predicted a crest from 21.5 to 22.5 feet on Tuesday or Wednesday. The record was 22.63 feet in 1993.
Davenport Public Works Director Dee Bruemmer said if crest predictions remain near 22 feet, the city should avoid major damage.
"The critical point is 22 feet. If we're under that, we'll be just fine," Bruemmer said. "But, the river and Mother Nature is unpredictable."