Community rallies to hold back storm-swollen river

CLARKSVILLE, Mo. (AP) — A tiny, flood-prone community breathed easier Tuesday after shoring up a makeshift levee holding back the rain-swollen Mississippi River. Other Midwest communities scrambled to fend off waterways that threatened to overflow as more storms marched through the region.

Volunteers hustled Monday and overnight to shore up weak spots in a levee hastily built last week to stop the Mississippi from overrunning the flood-weary hamlet of Clarksville. At times toiling in heavy rain, crews built a second wall of dirt and sandbags behind the original barrier and by Tuesday morning calm was restored. The Mississippi appeared to be receding, ever so slowly, from the community 70 miles north of St. Louis.

“We’re feeling much better,” Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said. “It is amazing what you can do, and when it doesn’t work you go to Plan B, Plan C or Plan D.”

National Guard Capt. Mitch Boatright said he was confident the new protection would hold.

“I’m sure nothing’s going to happen now,” he said.

Feverish sandbagging efforts meanwhile endured further south in Dutchtown, where the river was 8 feet above flood stage, at 40.1 feet, as of midmorning. The National Weather Service said it was expected to crest Thursday at 42 feet.

Shipping resumed Tuesday along a 15-mile stretch of the Mississippi near St. Louis after the Coast Guard said 11 barges that sank last weekend in the rain-swollen waterway were not a hazard to navigation.

Investigators were trying to determine what caused 114 barges to break loose in St. Louis County. Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said drifting debris such as trees can collect under docked barges, and that this may have weighed on the fleet and the lines that secured them to shore.

Fogarty said efforts to salvage the sunken barges would begin soon.

In St. Louis, crews with the city’s wastewater treatment utility scrambled to stem the flow of millions of gallons of raw sewage that has been pouring into the river since two of three pumps failed at a treatment plant two days earlier.

The plant processes some 110 million gallons of sewage a day; about half of that was being discharged into the river untreated. Many communities downriver from the city draw their drinking water from the Mississippi.

Lance LeComb, a Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District spokesman, said it was unclear how quickly the pumps would be fixed or replaced. While acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, LeComb said the fast-flowing, bloated river was diluting the spilled sewage.


Suhr reported from St. Louis.

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