Clarksville, MO: The Mississippi River reached its fourth-highest ever recorded crest this weekend as volunteers in Clarksville struggled to keep the flood-prone city dry.
The river crested Saturday at just above 26 feet in Louisiana and just below 36 feet in Clarksville.
Only the crests in 1973, 1993 and 2008 were higher than the crests this weekend. The all-time record in both cities is the flood of ’93, when the river reached 37.3 feet at Clarksville and 28.4 feet in Louisiana.
The high waters disrupted some of the fundamental infrastructure of day-to-day life in eastern Pike County.
The Champ Clark Bridge over the Mississippi in Louisiana was closed as the Illinois Department of Transportation moved to secure the Illinois approach where it cuts through the Sny levee. Water covered Route 79 to the north and the south of Clarksville, which can now only be accessed from the southwest via Route W. The post office in Clarksville, secured and surrounded by sandbags, moved its operations to Louisiana’s post office.
FLOOD DEFENSES IN CLARKSVILLE
Volunteers in Clarksville were working into the evening Friday night as the crest approached — another entry in the month of efforts
“So far, things are defended. So far,” Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said. “If [the forecast] doesn’t go up it will be alright. ”
Workers from Americorps, the federal volunteer program, arrived in town this week to bolster the effort. The organization had 18 workers adding sandbags to the wall stretching up either side of Howard Street Friday evening, where water had crept up to the alley halfway between First and Second. They planned to work until dark.
The efforts of Americorps, other volunteers and female inmates from the correctional facility in Vandalia on the ground in Clarksville had allowed the city’s defenses to keep up.
“Without the women coming today, (and this isn’t the first time they helped, they were involved last month and they’ve been here over the years), this wouldn’t be what looks a success,” Americorps St. Louis Director Bruce Bailey, who led the the group’s efforts in Clarksville, said Friday. “They were the critical resource.”
Male inmates incarcerated in Bowling Green also joined the eff effort by filling sandbags, which were then transported to Clarksville.
“That is a process that has improved measurably – the number [of sandbags] that we can do with speed,” Smiley said.
The flood kitchen at the Clarksville Methodist Church has been serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Smiley added. Students form local high schools have also pitched in.
“It’s a huge team effort, and it’s not an exact science, because the river does something different every time. Everyday it’s different, and we just have to try to prepare to meet it, wherever it is,” Smiley said.
The city identified the defense of the city’s post office as a priority for the Americorps volunteers.
“It’s one thing that the whole town needs. To lose it would be devastating for us,” Smiley said. As of Friday afternoon, the post office seemed to have been secured, though some water was seeping in from beneath the building.
There had initially been some concern that the city’s wastewater treatment lagoon might be in danger of over-
topping, but Smiley said that city works had checked it and determined the water level to be safe.
The city did not expect to see anybody displaced Friday, though they were watching four families and had made arrangements to house them overnight at Clopton High School should it prove necessary, Smiley said.
The city’s budget is regularly pushed to the limit by the cost of flood defense, which had cost the city $50,000 as of the middle of last month. Smiley did not have a precise figure for the total spending thus far, but said that the city was probably close to doubling that amount with the latest efforts.
The city hopes to be compensated by the state and federal government. Smiley said several cities along the Mississippi River had made a request of the governor Friday morning.
Americorps disaster response efforts send him and his volunteers across the country, Bailey said, but he is consistently impressed by the reception they receive in Clarksville.
“The one thing that’s always impressed our members, and why they look forward to coming here, is the tremendous gracefulness and hospitality of a small town like this,” Bailey said. “My members have really been embraced by all the townspeople. They’ve had a chance to tell their stories and listen to what life’s like here in Clarksville. I really feel like this is something that is desperately needed in the country right now.”
NOT YET HIGH-AND-DRY
There was no reason to believe Saturday’s crest would be the end of this year’s wet flood season, Smiley said Friday, pointing to rain expected in the next two weeks.
“If [the rainfall] is great, and we don’t keep our [wall of sandbags] growing down here it could come right over,” Smiley said.
The North Central River Forecast Center of the National Weather Service, which is responsible for the Mississippi River as far south as Chester, Ill., issued a forecast discussion Sunday afternoon noting that a rainy weather system could push parts of the river back up to near-record levels.
Predicting the river’s behavior has been tricky so far this year: the predicted crest of the river drifted upward in height and backward in time as the week went on, before dipping slightly down.
“Because of the extensive snow-pack north of us all feeding into the Mississippi simultaneously, it’s been very hard to get an accurate, continuous prediction several days in advance of where this has been headed,” Bailey said.
Smiley said she tries to remain optimistic.
“I think we can do it. We’ve done it before, we can do it again, and I think it will get done. We’ve got good people working on it and they’re working hard,” Smiley added.