Just beyond the closed Alton Visitor Center, a building surrounded by water, stands a temporary flood wall that protects the city’s downtown.
The Mississippi River crested on Friday here at 39.01 feet, the second highest behind the all-time historic record of 42.7 feet set during the Great Flood of 1993. Yet most businesses remain open.
At Chez Marilyn, a restaurant that debuted six years after the big flood, employees and volunteers work to keep the water out and keep customers coming in.
“It’s kind of slowed the business down quite a bit,” said Ray Foraker, whose wife is the restaurant’s kitchen manager. “Some people was afraid we wasn’t open, and there had been so many rumors going around that this had happened, the flood wall had gave away.”
While the flood wall has held back the flooding, it likely will be a while before things return to normal.
Alton Public Works Director Robert Barnhart said the waters will remain high at least through this weekend, as the river will recede by about eight inches a day.
“We can’t really do much until the water level recedes back into the natural riverbanks, or maybe just a few feet above flood stage,” he said.
The Illinois National Guard is still in Alton and other communities along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, keeping an eye on levees and floodwalls. Meanwhile, city and county officials are keeping a running tab of how much it has cost to fill sandbags, pay overtime and deal with sewer overflows, hoping they’ll receive financial help.
If the cost for uninsured damage in Illinois reaches a total of $19 million, the state can ask the federal government to assist.
In Quincy, the river crested June 1 and returned to “moderate” flood levels more than a week later. Mayor Kyle Moore said he’s hopeful the state will get federal help. Meanwhile, the city’s flood protection will remain in place.
“There will be significant cleanup,” Moore said. “Not only do we have some businesses that are in the flood area, but also city roads and city parks, so really we’re not out of the woods yet, and this is going to be a long process for the entire community.”
The weather may cooperate, at least in the short term. While there is a chance of rain Tuesday night, only a quarter of an inch is expected, said National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Walsh.
He said the week is mostly expected to be dry and cool.
“With the forecast we have over this week, it should drop the levels enough so that we can start seeing some relief for some people,” Walsh said.
The high flood levels have caused some concern over what this will mean for riverfront events, specifically the annual Independence Day celebration, Fair St. Louis, which takes place on the Gateway Arch grounds. While organizers have said there are contingency plans in place in case flooding is still an issue, Fair St. Louis General Chairman David Estes said he expects to hold the fair at the Gateway Arch grounds this year.
Alton residents also hope to see their town up and running by the holiday. Barnhart said he'd like to be finished with work in the area, but that’s dependent on when the river falls.
At Chez Marilyn, the celebration started on Saturday night, just 24 hours after the river crested.
“The owner of the place said, 'I’m having a band,' they call it the Hell or Highwater band party that night, and they had a fantastic turnout,” Barnhart said. “It was just unbelievable, the amount of people that was here.”
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