21 Illinois counties declared disaster areas

Sandbagging continues along Mississippi River
HANNIBAL, Mo. As President Bush gets a look at the damage flooding left behind in Iowa, people down river in Missouri and Illinois are still sandbagging. The river is still rising And for people in towns like Quincy, Illinois, and Canton, Missouri, it's a race against time.

Canton, population 2,600, is the beneficiary of about three miles worth of levees that were installed back in the mid-1960s after the big flood of 1965. They have managed, so far, to keep this town very dry. The actual main channel of the Mississippi is about 150 meters out. On the other side of the river is where the breach occurred Wednesday in Meyer, Illinois. That flooded probably 30,000 acres of farm land.

The good news in Canton is that the river has receded. Wednesday night, the river was up to the sandbag level. Now it's gone down. That surely is a very good sign.

Down river, downtown Hannibal is doing quite nicely Thursday afternoon. The flood walls have kept the Mississippi out, though it's running full and wide. We're told it's about a foot down from Wednesday night, maybe due in part to the fact there were significant breaches in Winfield, Missouri, north of St. Louis Thursday, and two more Wednesday afternoon which have flooded a lot of Missouri farmland.

The good news is the critical levees in Illinois appear to be holding. The flood fighters are still at it, but they dare not get complacent.

"We have already been through the destruction. It's still going. But we're all still coming together. We're still working at it," said Ruth Ann Cissna, sandbagger.

This is surely not just a feel-good exercise. The nearly 1 million sandbags prepared in Quincy, Illinois, have been enormously important in fortifying levees.

The Quincy water treatment plant sits right alongside the Mississippi River, but it is surrounded by a 35-foot steel wall, so it's in good shape. Unlike 1993, when the steel wall seams leaked a bit, workers this year applied some expanding foam. So no more leaks. That's an effective low-tech fix.

There really is high-tech stuff at work. ABC7 paid a visit to the Illinois Emergency Mobile Command Center, a multimillion-dollar piece of equipment that has put flood-fighting communication light years ahead of where it was 15 years ago. They can take a video feed from a helicopter and view it in real time in that van. They have radio systems that allow them to dispatch people where they need to go. That has worked very nicely and very effectively throughout this flood fight in 2008.

IDOT and National Guard helicopters are able to feed real-time pictures of levee breaches directly to the command van so the decision-makers know immediately where the real problems are and how to fix them. A new radio system called StarCom 21 allows flood fighters all along the river to talk directly to each other.

"I can talk to somebody from the streets of Chicago to Shawnee National Forest," said Steve Jackson, IEMA communications director.

That ability to better communicate has certainly helped lower the stress level, but the best medicine for stress is for this river to go down. That's going to be a while yet, particularly with the threat of rain lingering.

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