Soggy holiday weekend leads to flooding concerns

Curt Simshauser submitted this aerial photo taken after the flood gates were closed on Route 155 in Prairie du Rocher on Monday afternoon. Some of the town's residents are evacuating as a precaution as river levels are expected to rise near the top of the levee protecting their community over the next few days.

Curt Simshauser submitted this aerial photo taken after the flood gates were closed on Route 155 in Prairie du Rocher on Monday afternoon. Some of the town’s residents are evacuating as a precaution as river levels are expected to rise near the top of the levee protecting their community over the next few days.

Following a soggy Christmas weekend, even more rainfall in the St. Louis region on Monday resulted in several inches received over a four-day span, causing concern for flood-prone lands and communities located next to rapidly rising rivers.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for most portions of the St. Louis area, including Monroe, Randolph and St. Clair counties through Monday afternoon, and concern quickly focused on the rural communities located along the Mississippi River. On Tuesday, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner issued a state disaster proclamation for seven counties, including Monroe, Randolph and St. Clair.

Several levee districts in the bi-state area installed flood control gates on Monday. Locally, this resulted in the closure of Water Street in Dupo and Route 155 near Prairie du Rocher. Water Street has since reopened. On Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Transportation said the Route 3 truck bypass in Chester is closed, as is Kaskaskia Street in Chester. The Missouri Department of Transportation said the Chester Bridge (Route 51) over the Mississippi River in Perry County, Mo., was closed as of noon Tuesday due to high river levels.

“Within the next 24 hours, the river forecast indicates additional closures may be required at Route 3 at Nine Mile Creek near Ellis Grove in Randolph County,” IDOT added.

Current road closures in Monroe County as of Thursday morning include Bluff Road (from Hanover to HH roads), Levee Road (at Luhr’s Landing), Steffan Road (from Long Lake to Levee roads), B Road (between Baer and Outlet roads), Brickey Road, LL Road (southern end), Ziebold Road, Miles Road, Riechmann Road, DD Road at C Road and B Road at Levee Road.

Levee district officials in Prairie du Rocher have conducted preliminary sandbagging efforts there with the help of volunteers.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported Wednesday morning that the rising Mississippi River measured at 40.9 feet on the St. Louis gage and 42.2 feet on the Chester gage, and crests initially predicted to approach or break record levels have lowered with each passing day.

The river is now expected to crest in St. Louis at 42.5 feet on the morning of Jan. 1. In Chester, an expected crest of 48.5 feet is predicted for the afternoon of Jan. 2. The record level for Chester was set during the 1993 flood at 49.7 feet, causing concerns for communities such as Prairie du Rocher.

The all-time record in St. Louis is 49.58 feet in August 1993. Flood stage is classified as 30 feet on the St. Louis gage.

Per the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency, the Corps of Engineers has said it is comfortable with the integrity of the levee system in Monroe County at this time. The citizens will be kept informed as the situation progresses. Volunteers prepared sandbags at Rock City in Valmeyer just in case they are needed to protect local levees.

There are currently no mandatory evacuations for citizens living in the Monroe County bottoms, EMA officials said. However, Randolph County EMA officials “highly recommended” on Monday that residents of flood-prone areas of their county — including Prairie du Rocher — evacuate.

The Prairie du Rocher levee system is rated at 50 feet, but it has settled some and there are a few low spots along the levee. Some of the town’s residents heeded the warning by temporarily leaving their homes as a precaution.

Fort de Chartres Levee District Commissioner Mark Laurent said the State of Illinois brought in nearly 70 tons of sand Tuesday and with the help of approximately 75 volunteers, another 3,500-plus sand bags were made to keep in reserve near Prairie du Rocher.

“The Corps went out with the levee district commissioner to check the situation and felt the slides were stable at this time. Continuous monitoring will follow,” Laurent said.

Despite the flood concerns there, the La Guiannee tradition will continue in Prairie du Rocher this New Year’s Eve. The public may arrive at the Creole House by 8:30 p.m. on Thursday to see singers carry on this year’s event. The annual stop at Fort de Chartres has been canceled due to the closing of the flood gates, however.

Farmers at the Gateway FS location in Prairie du Rocher also removed grain from its silos this week. A long line of trucks were seen delivering grain to Gateway FS locations at Chalfin Bridge and Waterloo on Tuesday, as farmers took precautions with grain stored along the bottoms. For a video, click here.

Scale operators at Chalfin Bridge said Monday was busy but the Tuesday deliveries were much greater in number. With the sudden increase in grain shipments, the facility has pushed its outbound delivery schedule to the ethanol plant in Sauget to help accommodate the increase in inbound deliveries.

Along the Kaskaskia River in neighboring Randolph County, a boil order was issued Tuesday for Evansville as the village’s water-sewer plant is now out of service due to flooding in that community.

For anyone interested in assisting with sandbagging, or volunteering in any other way, contact the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office at 618-826-5484, ext. 0, to leave your name and contact information. The sheriff’s office is compiling a list of volunteers who will be contacted as needed.

A large amount of rain over multiple drainage basins is a perfect recipe for saturated fields and fast-rising rivers.

Unlike the 1993 flood of record, barring a lot more rain at week’s end – which is not predicted – the river should fall rapidly after it crests.  This means the levees will not be saturated by prolonged high water.  Corps experts say two things can overcome levees: elevation, or water topping them, and duration, or prolonged saturation. Neither is likely this time.

Around Monroe County, localized flooding has occurred in some creeks and ponds, with adjacent roads being subject to closures or cautions. County highway personnel are keeping a close watch on areas known to be flood prone and will close roads as necessary.

Flooding on roadways is not associated with the Mississippi River, but rather results from inland drainage creeks and ponds.

At this point, there are no reports of people being displaced from homes or damage to businesses beyond impacts of farmland that is under water in places.

As a precaution, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District has put its Emergency Operations Center in operation to maintain a watch. Flood fight teams that focus on specific areas have also been placed on alert and contacted the drainage and levee districts they team with, to be prepared if necessary.

These are standard procedures. Teams specializing in various areas meet at least annually with local counterparts to ensure they have latest contact information and to conduct training.

Across the river in Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon on Tuesday called in the Missouri National Guard to assist with flood-fighting efforts. They will help first responders with providing security in evacuated areas. Roads are closed in nearly 500 locations across that state.

To view the constantly updated Corps river and reservoir report, click here.

Veath’s Storage on Route 3 in Waterloo said on Wednesday that anyone affected by the flooding who needs to store trailers or equipment outside can call them and store at their outside lots for free until they are full. Call them at 939-8535.

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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