Mississippi River Towns Brace for 'Yo-Yo' Water Levels

Towns up and down the Mississippi River were feeling confident the worst was behind them Friday, as government weather forecasters scaled back their projected river crests, suggesting water levels would fall well below records set in 1993.

Communities such as Canton in extreme northeast Missouri expected a 25.2-foot crest Friday night, nearly 3 feet lower than the 1993 record.

"We are smiling about that," emergency management director Jeff McReynolds said. "We have zero water, and it's our intent to stay that way. The new crest prediction makes us feel a whole lot better.

"But we are not letting our guard down. Significant rain in Iowa could hurt us again. We'll be on a yo-yo for the next few weeks. We're still in a danger zone."

The towns aren't in the clear. In many communities, water was still rising and crests weren't expected until the weekend or early next week.

And some were still under water.

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Five Mississippi River levees have broken in Lincoln County since Wednesday, sending water into as many as 350 homes into small towns such as Foley.

Floodwaters spilled onto Missouri 79 north of Winfield, and portions of the road were closed.

"If not for the efforts of the National Guard, emergency responders and volunteers, as many as 500 homes could have been lost, said Andy Binder, spokesman for Lincoln County Emergency Management. He said fortifications to secondary levees were holding with roughly 45,000 sandbags in use.

"We are going to reroute the Mississippi River around our towns."

And on Friday, water overtopped a levee in St. Charles County, near St. Peters, threatening 20 to 30 homes.

Gov. Matt Blunt traveled Friday to Louisiana, Clarksville, Winfield and St. Charles to survey flood damage and meet with volunteers.

Blunt, who has begun the process of obtaining federal disaster assistance, said it was heartbreaking to see Missourians lose their farms and homes.

"One thing I'm struck by in every community is the great, resilient spirit of Missourians," he said.

In Old Monroe, population 250, and 45 miles north of St. Louis, retired steelworker Bob Scott had a new neighbor, the Mississippi River, which was puddling at the edge of his front yard.

He said Friday that he thought the river had stopped rising in his neighborhood and that his home might escape unscathed.

"It's kind of harrowing, a lot of sleepless nights, worried about your property. You work all your life for what little bit you get."

Scott, 61, shares a home with his wife, who was selling hibiscus trees for $5 apiece. Usually, the Mississippi River is a mile from his house. Now, it's lapping at his yard.

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Sen. Claire McCaskill planned to tour and assess flood-stricken areas along the Mississippi River on Saturday. Sen. Kit Bond toured Winfield on Friday.

The National Weather Service on Friday lowered crest predictions. The revised projections came after several levee breaks in Illinois displaced water onto farmland that would have gone south.

The news means many towns along the river won't see the record-level flood crests they expected.

Until Thursday, crests were expected to be at or near record levels set in 1993 at Canton, Hannibal, Saverton, Louisiana, Clarksville and Winfield. But the latest projections are that those towns will see crests 1 foot to 3 feet lower than previously predicted, starting Friday night to the north through Monday at Winfield.

The river at St. Louis crested Friday at 37.1 feet, well short of the 49.58-foot mark in 1993.

The river at Clarksville, halfway between St. Louis and Hannibal, is projected to crest at 36.3 feet on Sunday, more than a foot below the record, and slightly lower than the water level on Thursday.

"We feel very confident, but we know the river is unpredictable," emergency management coordinator Mike Russell said.

He's been through this before — in 1993, the year of the 500-year-flood.

"I was in my 20s then," he said. "Here it is 2008 and I'm 40. I didn't think 500 years had already gone by."

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