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Mississippi River Levee Bursts in Western Illinois

Illinois emergency authorities said a levee along the Mississippi River in far western Illinois burst Saturday and voluntary evacuations were under way in the small community of Keithsburg.

Officials with the Mercer County Sheriff's Department said the Pope Creek Levee burst around 8:45 a.m.

Keithsburg, a community of 700 residents, sits along the Mississippi River about 35 miles southwest of Moline. It is located across the river from Iowa, where massive floods have swamped towns and were being blamed for at least two deaths.

"The levee broke in two places," said Alderman George Askew, 76, who has been in Keithsburg since 1943. "We're getting under water."

About 26 miles away, a levee along a creek broke in the Henderson County community of Carman around 10 a.m.

"From what we understand, it hasn't directly affected the town," said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich expressed his concern for the residents forced to evacuate their homes.

"I've directed the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to work closely with local officials to ensure they get any assistance they need to help these people through this most difficult time," he said in a prepared statement.

Farther south of the broken levees, rising water prompted officials to close a bridge in the central Illinois community of Quincy, which along the Mississippi River across from Missouri.

Assistant Fire Chief Rob Tipton said because water was threatening the approach on the Missouri side of the river, the two-lane Memorial Bridge was being closed. The nearby Bay View Bridge would become a two-way bridge to handle traffic across the river.

Tipton said there were no reports of flooding, but authorities were sandbagging an area around a water treatment facility and other nearby businesses as a precaution.

In Keithsburg, firefighters, city council members, and others went door-to-door to alert people to what had happened and encourage residents to evacuate, said Jennifer Hamerlinck, Mercer County's emergency manager.

"People are leaving," she said.

She also said about there was flooding in about a third of the town, but said that could change quickly.

"The water is rising, coming in rapidly," she said. "We have more water coming."

Askew, who said his home was on a hill and was not yet threatened, didn't expect the water to reach his house and planned to stay.

In southern Illinois along the Indiana border, Lawrence County authorities say they're closely monitoring a levee along the Wabash River.

"It's being monitored heavily," said Stewart Hawkins, an employee in the sheriff's office. "There are some potential spots that have our concern."

Elsewhere in Illinois, residents continued to sandbag their threatened homes in the far northern end of the state, where officials monitored the rising Fox River.

Of particular concern, said Lee Shannon, the community's emergency management chief, was a thunderstorm that was expected Saturday night.

"The water's got no place to go," he said.

Blagojevich has designated more than a dozen counties as disaster areas because of the flooding.