Advertisement

Rain Falls, Rivers Rise; Worker Yells: 'Quit! Quit! Quit!' : Midwest: Weather keeps adding insult to injury as levees weaken and burst. Sandbaggers, residents and officials are at the breaking point too.

July 27, 1993|LOUIS SAHAGUN and JUDY PASTERNAK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The rains continued to fall and the great rivers of the Midwest continued their inexorable rise on Monday as armies of exhausted sandbaggers battled to reinforce flood walls that still held and to shore up waterlogged levees that were beginning to crumble.

The Missouri River rose four feet here in 24 hours, and the National Weather Service said the crest, sometime before dawn today, should be a couple of feet above the top of the flood wall protecting the downtown area.

Other estimates put the crest a little below the top, but National Guardsmen and volunteers labored throughout the night, adding sandbags to the top of the rampart to hold the water back.

Sixteen inches of rain fell here over the weekend and it rained hard again Monday morning, but officials said the floodwaters of the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Kansas and their hundreds of swollen tributaries were primarily being fed by fierce thunderstorms that continued throughout the day to the north and west.

The rising Kansas River shut down all east-west railroad traffic through the city, which is the heart of the rail system in the upper Midwest. Detours became the order of the day, with Chicago-California traffic routed as far north as Montana and as far south as Texas. Delays were expected.

The city's downtown municipal airport was closed Monday because of rising water.

In eastern Missouri, volunteers were still fighting valiantly on Monday to save towns like historic St. Genevieve from the rising Mississippi. However, saturated levees were starting to give way at a number of spots along a 250-mile stretch of riverfront.

Undermining finally forced surrender on the weakened Harrisonville-Stringtown-Ft. Chartres levee, 50 miles south of St. Louis. With the earthen dike threatening to crumble at any moment, officials ordered 2,000 residents to leave their rural homes for higher ground.

And about 100 miles farther down river, engineers admitted they might be losing the fight to save the levee protecting the Illinois towns of Valmeyer and Prairie Du Rocher and 70,000 acres of surrounding farmland.

Another levee below St. Louis at McBride, Ill., and one north of St. Louis near Quincy, Ill., had ruptured the day before, drowning an additional 70,000 acres of farmland and scores of rural homes.

The biggest problem, the engineers said, is length of time that the flood has lasted.

Saturated by weeks of rain, pummeled by wave crests and pressured by the tremendous force of the flood-bloated river, the softened levees have become riddled with "sand boils," weak points in the berms spewing bubbles of the fine sand and clay used to build them.

With the duration of this year's flood reaching biblical proportions, the earthen retaining walls are starting to collapse.

On Monday, in the area where Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska come together, up to four inches of rain fell during the day. Rising waters swept over the banks of the Missouri and Nishnabotna rivers, forcing the evacuations of 500 people from Hamburg, Iowa, and another 400 from the hamlet of Watson, Iowa.

In southern Iowa, runoff water thundering over the emergency spillways of the Coralville and Rathbun dams threatened to sever the Centerville aqueduct and cut off the water supply to 14,000 residents.

About 80,000 residents of St. Joseph, Mo., remained without water for the second day after Missouri River floodwaters took out the city's only water treatment plant. Seven pumps were airlifted to Kansas City Monday morning for repairs, and officials said the plant is not expected to be operable for several more days.

Eight miles west of Topeka, Kan., a levee along the Kansas River was expected to collapse by this morning, endangering the 1,400 residents of the town of Silver Lake.

In DeWitt, Neb., tornado sirens wailed and some townspeople took refuge in a walk-in refrigerator as thunderstorms ripped through the town, already hard-hit by flooding.

The tornadoes never came, but the rain was torrential, raising water levels in streets still awash since nearby creeks and a river overflowed during the weekend.

"Come on rain, quit!" civil defense worker B. J. Fictum muttered as he eyed the glowering sky from the relative safety of DeWitt's volunteer fire department building. "Quit! Quit! Quit!"

In Washington, President Clinton declared parts of North Dakota a major disaster area. With the declaration, North Dakota became the ninth Midwestern state cleared for federal disaster aid.

Damage from what has aptly been termed The Great Flood is now estimated at more than $10 billion. Thus far, at least 41 have died, tens of thousands have been forced from their homes and more than 16,000 square miles of farmland have been inundated.

As the Mississippi continued to rise south of St. Louis on Monday, disaster officials scrambled to evacuate residents from areas where the levees were giving way and to reinforce the levees that still provided some protection.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|