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Mississippi River threatens Iowa with near-record water levels

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) – The Mississippi River inched upward toward a near-record crest on Tuesday, testing the strength of the sandbag walls keeping muddy water out of the downtown area.

The flood that has been rolling down the river past Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois was expected to reach Davenport late Tuesday and peak between 22 and 22.5 feet – just short of the 1993 record of 22.6 feet. The water had risen to 22.23 feet during the morning.

Davenport is the largest urban area on the upper Mississippi without a permanent flood wall and volunteers and National Guard soldiers have built a clay-and-sandbag levee spanning 1,200 feet along River Drive to protect downtown businesses.



Behind the levee, nine diesel- and gasoline-driven pumps removed water that seeped through storm sewers and bubbled up through cracks in the street from the saturated soil underneath.

”Wall looks good. I see no problems,” city construction inspector Ron Hocker said as he made his rounds at midmorning Tuesday. ”I’m not worried about leaks in the levee. I’m worried about keeping up with the problems in the street.”



Cold, blustery weather on Monday and early Tuesday made work along the river miserable. Wind that peaked Monday at 46 mph, sloshing water over the tops of levees, eased early Tuesday to about 10 mph but the calmer air was accompanied by temperatures plummeting to 35 degrees. Afternoon temperatures were expected to be back in the 60s.

Through Monday, 1,115 Iowa homes had been damaged by flooding, said Kathy Stodola, spokeswoman for the state Emergency Management Division. Three hundred people have been evacuated, most of them residents of Abel-Essman Island near Guttenberg.

Joe Allbaugh, the Federal Emergency Management Agency director, planned to visit the Midwest on Thursday to discuss the problem of continual federal bailouts for flood victims.

”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 Monday.

Davenport Mayor Phil Yerington, who opposes construction of a flood wall, said it wasn’t right to punish residents for dealing with a natural disaster.

”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,” Yerington said.

Farther downstream, workers in Niota, Ill., shored up levees where the river was forecast to crest Wednesday.

”With … two more days to go, I don’t know where we’re going to go,” firefighter Christi Rutledge said. ”We’re going minute by minute.”

In Pontoosuc, Ill., where there is no levee, water had already surrounded some houses.

”I’ve got four kids, I can’t afford to lose this place,” Stacy Gilpin said while piling sandbags.

The weather was worse for some communities in the upper reaches of the Mississippi basin, where a weekend storm poured as much as 3 inches of rain across parts of southern Minnesota and into northwestern Wisconsin, the National Weather Service said.

The result is prolonged high water in Minnesota’s river valleys and, in some spots, new crests that will approach or slightly exceed marks set earlier.

”We had really thought that the river stages would stay below the previous crests,” said National Weather Service hydrologist Gary McDevitt. ”But we got way too much rain to give us that luxury.”

The Minnesota, upper Mississippi and St. Croix rivers all will rise again this week or early next week before receding, McDevitt said.

”It’s just so dang wet all over out here,” said Mayor Dave Smiglewski in Granite Falls, Minn., on the Minnesota River. ”Maybe at this time next week, we’ll be out of the woods. I hope so.”

Downriver from Davenport, Big Muddy’s Bar and Grill at Burlington now overlooks a flood wall made of 200 tons of sand piled between concrete road construction barricades.

The river is expected to crest Wednesday at 21.1 feet in Burlington, and the 550-foot-long wall was built to withstand a river level of 23 feet, but bar owner Dennis Standard isn’t taking any chances.

”I’ll be staying here all night until it’s over,” Standard said Monday. ”I have a rubber mattress to sleep on and I’ll be checking throughout the night.”

On the Net:

National Weather Service: http://www.crh.noaa.gov

National Guard: http://www.state.wi.us/agencies/dma/wiarng.htm


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