Armies of residents and volunteers battle cresting Mississippi
CAMANCHE, Iowa (AP) – With high winds whipping the Mississippi River into waves that battered levees and buildings, volunteers and National Guard soldiers battled Monday to keep the river from overwhelming flood defenses.
The flood crest that has been rolling slowly down the river through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois appeared to be arriving at the east-central Iowa community of Camanche. The Coast Guard arrived in what is usually a dry neighborhood to tie down a floating dock.
It’s not an official measurement site, but the water level on a pole outside Jack Murphy’s house measured 22.6 feet; the crest had been forecast at 23 to 24 feet, higher than the 1993 crest of 22.98 feet.
”It’s going to crest and it’s going to stay there,” said Steve Reckman, who has one of about 50 homes in the low-lying neighborhood of Swan’s Slough.
Downstream in Davenport – the largest urban area on the upper Mississippi without a permanent flood wall – there were a couple of minor breaches in the wall of sandbags guarding downtown early Monday.
Workers and National Guard soldiers plugged the leaks using nine dump truck loads of sand, said Dee Bruemmer, the city’s public works director.
The river is expected to crest late Tuesday at Davenport.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh said he planned to visit the area Thursday and would urge local leaders to improve flood precautions.
”The question is: How many times the American taxpayer has to step in and take care of this flooding, which could be easily prevented by building levees and dikes?” Allbaugh said.
Davenport Mayor Phil Yerington said permanent flood protection could block views of the river and hurt tourism.
”We’re going to get more and more talk about this flood wall,” Yerington said. ”But it’s not who we are. We use this unobstructed river view to the tune of about $100 million worth of tourism money and I don’t think we’re in a position of letting that go.”
Through Monday, 1,115 Iowa homes had been damaged by Mississippi flooding, about half of them secondary or vacation homes, said Kathy Stodola, spokeswoman for the state Emergency Management Division.
About 300 people were forced from their homes, most of them residents of Abel-Essman Island near Guttenberg. Several hundred others had to leave homes in Wisconsin, where the river has been slowly receding.
Camanche residents weary from working through a rainy night to shore up leaking sandbag levees labored to build yet another wall to contain water seeping through a railroad bed.
Wet ground beneath the levees made it difficult to reinforce them, because ”as you add sandbags to wall … or levee, it sinks,” said National Guard Maj. Kevin Hulett.
Farther downstream, workers in Niota, Ill., population about 150, were still trying to build up the community’s levees. The river had been forecast to crest there Wednesday.
”With … two more days to go, I don’t know where we’re going to go,” firefighter Christi Rutledge. ”We’re going minute by minute.”
In Pontoosuc, Ill., where there is no levee, water had surrounded some houses Monday. ”I’ve got four kids, I can’t afford to lose this place,” said Stacy Gilpin, who was trying to build a sandbag barrier to protect his home.
Thunderstorms expected over the next few days could push the river back up an inch of two north of La Crosse, Wis., by the end of the week, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Nelson said.
”It would slow down our healing process,” said Al Blenco, emergency dispatch supervisor in La Crosse County.
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