ST. LOUIS —
Mississippi River flooding wasn't as pronounced as its water level varies greatly but is typically highest in the spring, so minor flooding is not uncommon. "Flood stage" is a somewhat arbitrary term that the National Weather Service says is the point when "water surface level begins to create a hazard to lives, property, or commerce."
When river levels exceed flood stage by several feet, serious problems can occur. Just days ago, the Mississippi was well below flood stage. Forecasters now expect it to climb up to 12 feet above flood stage at some spots in Missouri and Illinois.
Already, high water has closed hundreds of roads and swamped hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland as planting season approaches. Transportation officials are planning to close the bridge at Louisiana, Mo. — about 75 miles north of St. Louis — at noon Saturday, citing rising water on the eastern approach.
After the devastating Mississippi River floods of 1993, the government bought out thousands of homes that were once in harm's way, tore them down and replaced them with green space where development is not allowed. New and bigger levees have been built, and flood walls reinforced.
Clarksville, Mo., is one of the few places at the mercy of the river. The quaint community of 442 filled with century-old historic homes has no flood wall or levee. But in 2008, it purchased a flood protection system that allows for a levee to be constructed — aluminum slats filled with sand — if the river rises.
The waters have risen too quickly to install the system this time, so volunteers are using gravel, plastic overlay and sandbags to protect the business district, and they're layering sandbags around threatened homes, the American Legion hall and the Catholic church.
"This just shocked us all because it just came up so quickly," alderwoman Sue Lindemann said. "We found out about the crest prediction Wednesday and we started sandbagging that night. It's going to be touch and go but we're hoping."