Mississippi River spills over, forcing hundreds to abandon their homes
PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, Wis. (AP) – While the Mississippi River crested in several places Wednesday, people downstream continued sandbagging to prepare for the rising waters.
Hundreds of people in Wisconsin and downstream in Iowa had moved out of low-lying riverside areas Tuesday while volunteers and others worked to reinforce sandbag dikes. Residents further up the river hoped the water had reached its high mark.
The river crested Wednesday at 16.4 feet at La Crosse, Wis., lower than initial predictions of 17 feet and more than a foot below the record set 36 years ago.
The river could drop by about a foot by Sunday, the National Weather Service said, but La Crosse Mayor John Medinger said the crisis isn’t over. ”It won’t be over until the river goes down to 13 to 14 feet. The potential is there for serious problems,” he said.
Two to 3 inches of rain is forecast along the Mississippi in southern Minnesota this week, but that shouldn’t threaten riverfront communities there, said Minnesota emergency management official Kris Eide. Flood crests on the Mississippi appear to be moving downriver ahead of schedule and not as high as expected.
”We are very close,” Eide said. ”The worst is behind us.”
The river at Prairie du Chien was 23.07 feet and was expected to crest at 23.7 feet by Friday.
Water climbed at the home of Dorothy and Al Reed as they moved furniture to take it to their daughter’s home on higher ground.
”The basement is full, and it’s on my back porch, and it will probably be in the rest of the house sometime tomorrow,” Dorothy Reed said. ”We’re trying to get everything out. It’s no fun.”
Another resident, Rose Serpe, said a sandbagged dike around her home was failing.
”It has been saturating under the dike,” she said. She expected water would flood the home’s first floor, and had her kitchen refrigerator up on blocks.
Sixteen counties in Minnesota and nine in western Wisconsin have declared a state of emergency. A disaster proclamation was in place for 10 Iowa counties.
”A lot of the people in the community have done a great deal of work ahead of time to help minimize damage,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum said Wednesday on ”The Early Show” on CBS.
Despite the easing crests upriver in Minnesota, the weather service raised its projections at Rock Island to a crest of 21.5 to 22.5 feet, just shy of the 22.63-foot record set in 1993.
At St. Paul, Minn., the Mississippi passed 23 feet Tuesday for the first time since the 1960s and was up to 23.4 feet Wednesday. Four city parks and the downtown airport for small planes already were under water but the river was expected to go up only about an additional inch.
A 403-mile stretch of the Mississippi from Minneapolis to Muscatine, Iowa, is closed to boat and barge traffic. Amtrak passenger service between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul remained shut down Wednesday because of flooding along the Mississippi. Burlington Northern Santa Fe also had idled freight trains in the area.
Communities throughout the Quad Cities area – Moline and Rock Island, Ill., and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa – where the crest is expected to arrive next week, pleaded for volunteers to fill sandbags and some schools let students out of class to help. Prison inmates were sent to help at Hampton, Ill.
”I have a friend who lives on the river. I know what it’s like. Everybody needs to do their part,” said Matt Campbell, a student at Riverdale High School in Port Byron, Ill., just north of the Quad Cities.
About 50 Army National Guardsmen were ordered to Camanche, Iowa, on Wednesday to help townspeople with sandbagging and patrolling the levees along the rising Mississippi River.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was expected to send staff to Iowa as early as Thursday. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he had written to Director Joe Allbaugh on Wednesday asking that the agency be placed on alert status.
”Their quick response could make the difference for thousands of Iowa families. I’m writing to FEMA now to make sure we’re ahead of the game,” Harkin said in a statement.
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