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Government, Politics & Issues

Flooding Impacts Communities Again, This Time Nearing Records Of '93

May 31, 2019 - The Mississippi River reaches 36 feet, its highest level in Alton since 1993. The river is forecast to rise about three more feet before cresting above the 39-foot mark on June 5, about three feet below the record.
Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio
Water is expected to crest in Alton on Wednesday at near-historic levels.

Yet again in communities along the Mississippi River, residents and business owners are filling sandbags and holding their breath as the water creeps higher.

On Friday, the river was expected to crest in Quincy at just over 31 feet, less than a foot from the historic record set in 1993.

Mayor Kyle Moore said volunteers have helped fill 45,000 sandbags, some of which have gone to neighboring areas. He said while most homes are far above the reach of the river, the longer the water remains high the more damage it could do, including to the city’s water-treatment plant near the river.

“The duration of the elevation is certainly a concern,” he said. “In ’93, that’s really what caused the community so much heartbreak and loss, that we went so long without many of our bridges that connected Quincy to Missouri and the tri-state area.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker activated the Illinois National Guard on Thursday, and between 50 to 70 members were expected in Quincy on Friday.

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Further downstream, the Alton Visitor Center sat surrounded by water. The town is building a concrete wall just behind the building to protect its historic downtown.

Dozens of people gathered along Broadway Street on Friday to take pictures of the water. Some, who remembered the Great Flood of 1993, brought their children to get their own glimpse of people traveling in boats where they would normally drive.

The Mississippi River water flooding in Alton on 05-31-19
Credit Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Cyndi Murphy takes a photo of her granddaughter Cassidy Schuyler in front of near-historic water levels on Broadway Street in Alton.

Local business owner Kelly Olmsted has been watching the water rise from her store window front, which sits about 50 feet up the hill from the water.

“There’s a lot more traffic, but not shoppers,” she said. “Today, we’re offering some cookies, and we put balloons out. There are so many kids downtown really looking at history in the making, so we’re just kind of trying to entice people to come in, and say, ‘Hey, we are still open.’”

Kelly Olmsted watches the Mississippi River water level rise from inside her children's clothing boutique on Broadway Street in Alton. 05-31-19
Credit Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Kelly Olmsted watches the Mississippi River water level rise from inside her children's-clothing boutique on Broadway Street in Alton.

Sales have been down, Olmsted said, and she’s expecting that to continue throughout the summer. But she’s hoping that by encouraging people to buy online, the impact on her bottom line won’t be too bad.

Robert Barnhart, Alton’s public works director, said residents have worked hard to sandbag and keep the water from encroaching into downtown.

“We hope when it’s all said and done, we can look back and say that we succeeded,” he said.

While the water isn’t expected to crest until next Wednesday — in Grafton at 36 feet, Alton at 39.2 feet and St. Louis at 46 feet — the flooding is already pushing some residents out. West Alton residents were advised to evacuate on May 1.

Andrea Mcmanus, a Grafton resident, hasn’t been able to access her apartment since May 9. She and her three kids moved into the patio apartment last November. She was excited to find some peace and quiet after moving out of St. Louis.

Andrea Mcmanus hasn't been able to access her apartment in Grafton since May 9.  Taken in Alton on 05-31-19
Credit Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Andrea Mcmanus hasn't been able to access her apartment in Grafton since May 9.

“We’ve taken everything out because things were just floating around in the river, but it stinks, it’s gross,” she said, adding that she’s given up hope on being able to go back.

“I’ve been looking for other apartments and homes [in] Alton, like Edwardsville, because when and if someone goes back, I don’t know when it will be. At least until the end of the summer.”

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