Updated at 5 p.m.
ST. LOUIS — The latest round of Midwestern flooding claimed at least four lives, closed hundreds of roads and forced residents of river towns to shore up threatened levees with sandbags as waters rose to and near record levels in some communities.
The National Weather Service issued flood warnings Friday along a large swath of the Mississippi River, as well as flash flood watches for parts of Missouri, including the St. Louis area, as well as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas after recent rounds of heavy rain.
Among local developments:
• Lincoln County EMA urges evacuation of properties between Highway 79 and the Mississippi River. Levees in Winfield and Foley have overtopped, and the river level continues to rise.
• In the city of St. Louis, the Streets Department announced Friday afternoon it is closing the Alabama Avenue bridge over the River des Peres. It will remain closing to traffic until water levels recede.
• The city of St. Charles, citing flooding affecting area boat and RV storage lots, said Friday it is suspending enforcement of the regulation that prohibits parking a boat or RV in the driveway of a residence. The rising Missouri River has forced the closing of some lots and streets already. Flooding has forced the closing of Tecumseh Street east of North Second Street. North Main Street is also closed to traffic south of the Highway 370 bridge, the city said.
• The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District closed its Watkins Creek pump station in Spanish Lake, just north of Interstate 270. The station is part of the sewer collection system and pumps 2.7 million gallons of wastewater a day to the Bissell Point treatment plant. That wastewater will be emptying into the Mississippi River until the river level drops below 40 feet.
On Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard closed the Mississippi River near St. Louis to boat and barge traffic as excessive rains and heavy snow melt this spring swelled the major shipping waterway to near record levels.
The river — a key transportation artery for shipments of grain, agricultural chemicals, energy products and other commodities — is closed from river mile marker 179 to 184, the Coast Guard said.
The Mississippi River gauge at St. Louis rose above 38 feet on Friday morning and was expected to rise to 42.5 feet by Monday, about 7 feet below the record crest set in the summer of 1993, according to the latest National Weather Service forecast.
The body of a missing kayaker was found Friday afternoon in a swollen southwest Missouri creek. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. John Lueckenhoff identified the man as 35-year-old Scott M. Puckett of Forsyth, Mo. The body of his friend, Alex Ekern, 23, was found Thursday.
Puckett and Ekern were among three men who began paddling Wednesday afternoon in Bull Creek near the small town of Walnut Shade. The patrol said they were swept over a low-water bridge and caught in what is called a hydraulic, which creates a washing-machine effect that is hard to escape. One of the men survived.
Flooding also claimed the life of a camper found Wednesday after he was caught in waters from an overflowed creek near the town of Ava, also in southwest Missouri. And in northern Indiana, a 2-year-old was killed when his mother drove onto a flooded road.
Bracing for the worst
In Davenport, Iowa, concerns were that even after the Mississippi River reached a record height, the worst was far from over.
The crest inched above the 1993 record on Thursday, and forecasters are calling for up to 4 inches of additional rain next week, meaning the high water will likely stick around and potentially get even higher.
Several blocks of downtown Davenport were flooded this week when a flood barrier succumbed to the onslaught of water. The river at the Quad Cities has been at major flood stage or higher for 41 consecutive days.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visited Davenport Friday.
Historic flooding was happening elsewhere along the river, too.
The National Weather Service is now projecting flood levels to reach the second- or third-highest ever at several Mississippi River towns in northeast Missouri — Hannibal, Louisiana, Clarksville and Winfield — and western Illinois towns such as Quincy, Alton and Grafton.
In a conference call Friday, Mayor Jo Anne Smiley of Clarksville, Mo., said her city has in place more than 3,000 tons of gravel, 1,000 tons of sand and more than a million sand bags, with volunteers and inmates busily bagging sand.
“We’re within inches of the highest level ever, and we will be probably be able to secure everything we need to,” Smiley said.
Still, she expressed frustration that the city has faced the same flood problem “again and again and again,” and called on Congress to provide financial assistance to river towns.
Mayor Rick Eberlin of Grafton, Ill., said he was surprised by the speed of the flooding.
“We’re seeing some things we’ve not seen before. Yesterday, for the first time ever, we witnessed a three-foot raise. I had a gentleman come into City Hall — 85 years old — he’s been through it all. He shook his head, he said, ‘Mayor, I’ve never seen anything like what’s going to happen today.’
“And it happened. Kind of caught us off guard. As a matter of fact, the prediction graph was a couple days out. We thought we had more time to vacate the businesses along the river side of Main Street.”
Eberlin said most of the roads to Grafton are now closed, with the only accessibility from the north, from Route 3.
Mayor Phil Stang of Kimmswick, which is on the Mississippi near the confluence with the Meramec River, said the town is building atop a permanent levee in hopes of holding back the water.
On Friday morning, trucks carrying clay, rock and sand were rumbling past his home.
“We've closed off the city completely. As soon as it rains, we are a bathtub,” Stang said.
“I will not let that water into the city of Kimmswick.”
Sandbagging efforts began Friday in Winfield, where the Pin Oak Levee was threatened. Winfield, about 50 miles north of St. Louis, was among many towns where volunteers were racing the clock to add sandbags to the tops of levees and around homes and businesses.
The Mississippi was expected to crest Friday afternoon in Hannibal at the third-highest level on records. The Hannibal Courier-Post reported that the height of the city’s flood gates and levee will be raised as a precaution. Hannibal Board of Public Works general manager Heath Hall says that community is “preparing for the worst” but was hopeful that “reality is better.”
The surging Mississippi also was causing problems in West Alton, where the town’s 500 or so residents were under a voluntary evacuation.
Along the Osage River, high waters are inundating campsites at the Mari-Osa Campground.
The Mississippi River at Chester on Friday was at nearly 37 feet with the weather service forecasting it to crest at more than 43 feet by Monday. Flood stage is 27 feet.
Public works employees in Alton erected a barrier wall Thursday after a sudden Mississippi River surge closed roadways. On Friday, the Argosy Casino Alton was forced to close as floodwater crept higher into downtown.
Alton Mayor Brant Walker said Friday the river was at 35.5 feet, and “we’re expecting to crest Monday into Tuesday.”
Walker said the city could be facing the third-highest flood in its history.
“In the last six years, we’ve had approximately eight or nine floods,” Walker said. “We’re doing flood control every eight months.”
Citing the heavy cost of flood response and the loss of business, Walker said, “We’re barely keeping our head above water.”
At Rock Island, Ill., the Mississippi broke a quarter-century flooding record as levels rose 7.7 feetabove flood stage as of 8 a.m. local time, the National Weather Service said. Rock Island is about 175 miles west of Chicago. The previous record was set in June 1993 when the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers broke their banks, inundating the Midwest countryside.
High river levels are expected to continue with about 1.5 to 2 inches of rain is forecast to fall across Iowa and Illinois through May 10, the U.S. Weather Prediction Center said.
From January to March, much of the Midwest have had among their top 10 rainy and snowiest seasons.
St. Louis, like most of the Midwest, has experienced more rain than usual this year: 20.45 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, 8.53 inches above normal, according to National Weather Service data.
The Mississippi isn't the only river bulging out of its banks. Moderate flooding at Missouri River towns like Washington and St. Charles in Missouri was causing headaches like road closures, but few homes were impacted.
The Meramec River in suburban St. Louis is rising fast and will crest Sunday and Monday around 15 feet above flood stage in towns like Arnold and Valley Park, threatening several homes and businesses.
Includes reporting by The Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg and the Post-Dispatch.