Communities in southern Illinois and Missouri prepared for all-time high-water records over the weekend as widespread flooding that has already killed 22 in the Midwest continued south.
On Friday, water began receding in the St. Louis area — enough to allow the reopening of several major roadways. Meanwhile, downstream communities braced for possible flooding over the weekend.
An all-time high-water mark was expected in southeast Missouri's Cape Girardeau, with the rising water damaging homes, threatening a power substation, and forcing a neighboring small town to become an island — at least for a few days.
The National Weather Service said Friday it expected the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau to top out on Sunday at a foot-and-a-half above the 1993 record. The community of nearly 40,000 residents is mostly protected by a flood wall, but a couple of dozen homes have been damaged.
Meanwhile, floodwaters had completely surrounded the nearby town of Allenville.
The 30 or some homes were mostly dry, but access was cut off. Cape Girardeau County emergency management director Richard Knaup says 40 of the 46 residents decided to stay, using boats to get around.
Sandbags were placed on top of a levee surrounding an Ameren Corp. substation near Cape Girardeau in hopes of keeping it dry. Sandbagging efforts were also underway in the tiny town of St. Mary, Missouri, after the breach of a Mississippi River levee.
A small levee in Ste. Genevieve County, about 40 miles south of St. Louis, broke Thursday night. The river was expected to crest in that area Saturday at about 3 ½ feet below the record set in 1993. The levee break mostly impacted agricultural land, but water was approaching St. Mary — a town of about 360 residents. Neighbors and volunteers were placing sandbags around endangered homes. There were no immediate reports of damage.
Ste. Genevieve, a historic French village dating to the 18th century, remained dry thanks to a levee.
In Illinois, authorities urged residents in the southwestern tip of the state living behind the Len Small levee to move to higher ground after Mississippi River water topped it — threatening about 500 people who live behind the levee.
Alexander County Board Chairman Chalen Tatum says the river was expected to rise another foot and a half before cresting Sunday, so flooding was expected to get much worse. He issued what he called an emergency evacuation order Friday.
The county also urged residents in and near East Cape Girardeau, Illinois, to evacuate. The move is precautionary — a levee there is holding for now but a record crest is predicted.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday toured flood-damaged areas of the state. His six stops in downstate Illinois included the Mississippi River communities of Alton and Grafton. He declared 12 Illinois counties disaster areas which helps makes state resources available for communities to recover from flooding.
The governor has ordered Illinois National Guard soldiers to active duty to help with flood recovery efforts in the state. In a statement on Friday, Rauner said the step means soldiers will be ready at a moment's notice for local communities as flood waters could continue to rise over the weekend. About 20 soldiers were ordered to report to the guard's Marion Readiness Center.
The Mississippi River is expected to crest in Memphis, Tennessee at 42 feet on Jan. 9. Although no major flooding was expected in the city, officials were moving to protect roads and a local airport.
Meanwhile, other parts of Tennessee and western Kentucky face flood threats.
The National Weather Service issued a flood advisory for the Cumberland River at Dover, Tennessee, through Monday evening. Minor flooding along the Ohio River was affecting the Kentucky cities of Owensboro and Paducah although the river wasn't expected to crest until Thursday. Moderate flooding was reported along the Green River near Paradise, Kentucky.
The death toll from the devastating winter flood in the Midwest has risen to 22 with the recovery of a man's body in southwest Missouri. The victim's name was not released. His vehicle was swept away by floodwaters in Polk County on Dec. 26.
Mike O'Connell of the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency says the body was found Friday morning just downstream from where his vehicle left the road.
Fifteen of the deaths were in Missouri and seven in Illinois. Searches continue for two missing teenagers in Illinois, a missing man in Missouri and a missing country music singer in Oklahoma.
The Associated Press