Sandbagging continues along Mississippi River

Blagojevich, Quinn tour flood areas
June 18, 2008 8:47:27 PM PDT
Levee breaks along the Mississippi River have flooded homes and farmland and backed up barge traffic.The Midwest flooding disaster is getting worse. And many other levees are in danger of breaking.

Governor Rod Blagojevich toured the area Wednesday.

The levees breaks were in Meyer and Indian Graves, which is just south of Meyer.

Volunteers and Illinois National Guardsmen have been hard at it all day, filling up truckload after truckload with sandbags. Quincy itself is in pretty good shape, having gone through the great flood of 1993. Many lessons were learned then, enabling this river town to be well-prepared.

Parts of the Mississippi have widened into shallow seas. In the tiny hamlet of Meyer, Illinois, 20 miles north of Quincy, the levee gave way Tuesday night, and the river continued to swallow up farm lands.

Quincy appears to be in good shape, save for a bridge ramp underwater on the Missouri side.

"We've had over 6,000 volunteers since Friday, probably put out about a million and a quarter sandbags so far," said John Spring, mayor of Quincy.

The bags have been sent up and down both sides of the Mississippi to places like Canton, Missouri. The Illinois governor toured much of the flooded area and visited with volunteers. The view from the airplane suggests, he said, the levees are holding but some may be susceptible as the river rises.

"Our challenge is to cut our losses and mitigate the damage as much as we can in advance of what's coming," said Blagojevich.

What's coming is more water. The Mississippi may crest in Quincy Thursday at 15 feet above flood stage. It's a lot of farmland that's threatened - 55,000 acres in Illinois. As long as the levees hold, that number will go down.

All along the flooded Mississippi there are the inevitable comparisons to the great flood of 1993. This time the Mississippi probably won't crest as high as 15 years ago, but this time the river rose much faster. And that can put special pressure on levees.

It is a big operation. Over the last six days, Quincy has been host to an extraordinary sandbagging operation. Four thoousand volunteers have produced roughly a million sandbags.

"Ninety-five percent of these people, maybe more than that here today, don't have a house in jeopardy. They don't even probably know anybody that may get flooded out but are here today to help other people and that's for Quincy and the tri-state area," said Jeff Steinkamp, Quincy city engineer.

Downriver in the town of LaGrange, Missouri, population 1,000, Main Street is under water. No trains passed through. The bank has moved its operations to a church on the bluff. The library is temporarily in the youth center.

"Where is the bank now? Where is city hall now? You know, where is - everything is in the wrong place," said resident Cathy Mack.

As they listened to baseball, volunteers kept filling the bags. In that town, there's not much more they can do.

"Just helping everybody else. If I needed help they'd be here for me, too," said Ross Anderson.


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