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Mississippi River crests near St. Louis

(MCT) ST. LOUIS — The Mississippi River’s spring flood crested Wednesday in the St. Louis area and fell upriver, where sandbags and soggy levees held.

At Grafton, where the Mississippi and Illinois rivers meet, a crest was expected Wednesday. The Illinois had set a flood record in Peoria, Ill. That surge will lessen as it flows toward the falling Mississippi, but Hardin, Ill., can expect a crest Friday six feet short of the 1993 record.

At St. Louis, the Mississippi hovered Wednesday at 35.4 feet, or 5.4 feet over flood stage, and climbed three steps up the grand staircase at the Gateway Arch. It is to fall below flood stage Sunday.

Only four months ago, the river was 40 feet lower at St. Louis. Last year’s drought had drastically reduced river flows in the Mississippi’s basin.

But since Jan. 1, St. Louis has had 16.6 inches of precipitation, almost 6 inches above normal. Pat Guinan, Missouri’s state climatologist, said the rain has recharged formerly parched farmland.

At Grafton, some homes, businesses and roads already are flooded. But Illinois Route 100 remained open east to Alton, said Police Chief Chris Sullivan, and detours through town let residents get around. 

In Clarksville, 50 miles north of St. Louis, an 8-foot-high sandbag wall along Front Street held against the river, which fell 1 foot since the crest Monday. That crest was 2.5 feet short of the 1993 record. The river was forecast to fall another 4 feet by Sunday.

“Things are going pretty well,” Clarksville Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said. “The wall is holding. Now we wait and see. With the river, you just don’t know.”

Downriver in Lincoln County, the river topped but did not break some agricultural levees. Floodwater stayed east of Foley and Winfield. Officials warned the levees remain vulnerable until the river retreats.

At St. Louis, the crest was about 4.5 feet short of the original forecast, largely because the Missouri River at St. Charles continues to fall. Wednesday’s crest was 14.3 feet lower than the 1993 record.

On Jan. 1, the Mississippi at St. Louis was at -4.4 feet downtown, within 2 feet of its historic low. (River gauges are arbitrary creations from steamboat days and vary from town to town. At zero in St. Louis, 12 to 14 feet of water flows beneath the Eads Bridge.) The river was at 5 feet on March 10, then rose 17 feet over three days. It went above flood stage Friday.

Until then, it hadn’t been at flood stage since May 7, 2011.


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