Worst of flooding is over as river crests
Midwest turns to prayer, levees for reassurance
LOUISIANA, Mo. - The faithful gathered for church services yesterday in towns hard-hit by flooding along the Mississippi River and many found comfort in word that the swollen waterway had apparently started to hit its high point.
Dozens of parishioners filled the dry Centenary United Methodist Church in Louisiana, a few blocks from flood waters that still cover about 15 percent of the town's neighborhoods.
They prayed for aid and gave thanks for the volunteers, National Guard soldiers, and prison inmates who have helped the community of nearly 4,000 in recent days.
"And they all worked," the Rev. Jeanne Webdell said of the volunteers. "They worked for a cause bigger than themselves, worked to help people that most didn't even know."
It appeared yesterday that the flooding in the town and elsewhere in Missouri and Illinois could soon give way to recovery.
The National Weather Service said the Mississippi was cresting yesterday at Canton, Mo., not far from the Iowa state line, through the lock and dam near Saverton, about 100 miles north of St. Louis. Crests were forecast for today in Louisiana and Clarksville.
"It's quieter compared to earlier this week," said Louisiana emergency management director Mike Lesley, adding that sandbagging in the town had largely ceased. "Last night, I actually got some sleep."
But elsewhere, the river was still rising. The latest forecasts for Winfield and Grafton, Ill., pushed back the crest to Wednesday.
"We're just trying to deal with it as it comes to us," said Jamie Scott, a dispatcher with the Jersey County, Ill., sheriff's office. "The crest [forecast] has dropped almost a foot, so that's a good thing. . . . All of our levees are holding."
Officials in Lincoln County, Mo., inspected levees near Winfield by air yesterday after one was overtopped earlier in the day, flooding about 1,000 acres and fewer than half a dozen homes, said Andy Binder, the Lincoln County emergency management spokesman.
"It just blew through our sandbags," Binder said, adding that authorities are confident the secondary levees protecting the town and nearby Elsberry will hold.
Several miles down the river in Grafton, the flood waters continued to spread deeper into the 650-resident village, heavily dependent on tourism. The town's main road - the Great River Road - was impassable in some stretches, limiting access to businesses.
When the river does crest in Grafton, it's expected to do so at 29.5 feet - about 9 feet below the record mark set during the Great Flood of '93. In St. Louis, where the river continued to flow at crest levels yesterday, it was more than 12 feet below the 1993 record.
While not record-setting, the devastation was still widespread: The storms and flooding that started in early June have forced thousands from their homes across six states, killing 24 people and injuring about 150. Rural areas such as Lincoln County, Mo., suffered the worst. There, more than 300 homes were flooded after more than 90 percent of the county's levees were overtopped.
In Canton, hundreds of volunteers and National Guard members spent the past week using sandbags in a battle to spare that town's levee a similar fate. Volunteers were back out yesterday, searching for leaks along the earthen structure that appeared to be holding up.
Hannibal emergency management director John Hark said the Mississippi was cresting yesterday near the top of levees that protect Mark Twain's hometown. But he was confident the barrier would hold if the forecasts are accurate.
Light rains forecast yesterday in eastern Missouri and southern Illinois were not expected to worsen the flooding, forecasters said. Sporadic rains are expected throughout the week but will be scattered and light.
A series of levee breaches let flood waters spread over a wide swath of land in Missouri and Illinois, and that water will take time to drain back into the river and flow downstream.