Towns along the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers have closed levees, evacuated downtowns and started sandbagging to hold rising floodwaters at bay. Weather experts say the communities will see some of the highest flood levels recorded since the Great Flood of '93.
Despite the flooding, some Missouri and Illinois towns remain open along the river — and their mayors said they hope tourism and community support will help their towns recover from the disasters.
“Some very historically significant river flood crests are expected here over the next week or so,” said Mark Fuchs, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service Forecast Office in St. Charles.
This weekend, the National Weather Service projects dramatic crests in Hannibal, Louisiana and Clarksville, Missouri. Flooding along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers is currently more severe than the flooding along the Missouri River, said Fuchs. Flooding will continue downriver next week, reaching St. Louis and other cities.
Flood crest forecasts in Grafton have already increased since Wednesday morning and the situation is “dire,” said Grafton Mayor Rick Eberlin. The river is projected to rise further by the middle of next week, but Eberlin said he hopes it won’t.
“The people here are a very resilient bunch of people; we’ll bounce back from this,” he said. “But every time, it becomes increasingly more difficult, and every inch that the water comes up, it’s going to take that much longer.”
Much of Grafton’s downtown is partially closed, and people are evacuating. Some businesses remain open in parts of town protected from the flood.
Eberlin said that he hopes the flooding will clear up in time for Grafton to host its Fourth of July fireworks display, which brings between 10,000 and 15,000 people to the town each year.
But according to Fuchs, of the National Weather Service, flooding might continue well into the summer and past the Fourth of July holiday.
Tourism down in river towns
Other area river towns remain open despite the floods but are struggling to attract visitors and recoup financial losses.
The town of Kimmswick has already closed its levees and canceled its second-largest annual event, the Strawberry Festival. Too many roads are flooded to accommodate the 50,000 visitors the event tends to attract, officials said.
But the town is still open, and Kimmswick Mayor Phil Stang encourages people to visit and pick up a jar of the town’s homestyle strawberry jam.
“The city is safe, and is accessible by Montebello Road. All of the stores are open. And we’re open for business,” said Stang. “If you’d like to come out for lunch or buy something for grandma, we’re ready.”
The Strawberry Festival generates up to 25% of Kimmswick’s yearly revenue, beaten only by the town’s Apple Butter Festival in fall, Stang said.
Tourism was also down around 20% in April at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, according to the museum’s executive director, Henry Sweets.
The Mississippi River is expected to crest in Hannibal this weekend.
Sweets said that so far, the town’s levees have held and the town remains open. But he worries that news of flooding has driven away tourists.
“The flood has hurt our tourism, there’s no question about it,” Sweets said. “People who live away from the river and don’t understand what flood protection is; they make assumptions that, ‘Oh, we hear it’s flooded. We better not go there.’ They don’t bother to phone to find out what the conditions are.”
Fuchs, of the National Weather Service, recommends that anyone traveling near the rivers drive carefully and avoid flooded roadways. The Missouri and Illinois departments of transportation keep track of road closures.
He also recommends that anyone helping with flood-prevention efforts take care to stay hydrated in the hot weather and humidity.
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