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Flooding in Winfield and Foley

"I now have waterfront property," said Newt Caffrey (left), who paddles with the help of his friend Ron Robertson, to retrieve a walker from inside his home along Crenshaw Road in Winfield Acres flooded by the swelling Mississippi River on Sunday, May 5, 2019, in Winfield, Mo. The water was up to Caffrey's front stoop. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

With area rivers rising again, residents of flood-prone areas in Lincoln County — about 45 miles northwest of St. Louis — were urged to evacuate Wednesday.

Lincoln County Emergency Management officials said properties near the Mississippi River — particularly in areas east of Highway 79, between the towns of Foley and Winfield — would be threatened by floodwater, as river levels build toward a crest expected Saturday. The areas are vulnerable since recent flooding of nearly identical severity overtopped the Winfield Main Levee and created a breach in the structure that is approximately 300 feet wide and about eight feet deep.

“If you live or work in these areas, you are urged in the strongest possible terms to evacuate,” the county’s warning said. “The breach in the levee means you will experience the rise of the Mississippi River as it happens, with little or no lag time.”

The warning specified that it does not pertain to the town of Winfield itself.

The notice was issued the morning after severe thunderstorms swept through the area, and with some additional rain expected Thursday.

In St. Louis, forecasts call for the return of major flooding, as well — with the Mississippi River set to soar back toward some of the five to 10 highest levels ever observed in the city, since records began in the 1700s.

As of Wednesday afternoon, official government forecasts projected that the river downtown would reach major flood stage by Friday, and crest around 41.8 feet over the weekend and into early next week. Those levels could be the sixth-highest ever recorded in St. Louis, and about half a foot above the city’s seventh-highest crest, seen just three weeks earlier. (Before getting officially added to the list of records, preliminary data from different crests are subject to review. It is unclear if a crest this weekend would be considered its own distinct high-water event, compared to the one seen less than three weeks ago.)

Other areas were anticipating localized threats from flooding.

In St. Charles, this weekend’s Missouri River Irish Fest was moved away from Frontier Park to another local venue, according to a Wednesday announcement. In the Hazelwood area, Aubuchon Road was closed due to the possibility of a levee breach in the area that could endanger motorists.

Representatives from the St. Louis District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that flood danger would be especially pronounced in low-lying areas north of St. Louis, in Lincoln, Pike, and St. Charles counties. Meanwhile, roughly five levees along the Missouri River may overtop in areas mainly used for agriculture, according to Romanda Walker, a deputy chief of public affairs for the district.

The corps said it would continue to work with local levee districts to inspect the structures when water is high “and to offer any engineering expertise that may be needed,” Walker said.

Corps representatives were unable to provide numbers or estimates to quantify flood damages or other impacts to the area this spring.

“With the (river) levels still being high, I don’t know if they’ve been able to fully assess,” Walker said.

The region has faced more frequent major floods in recent years. While climate change contributes to that vulnerability by raising the likelihood of extreme precipitation, growing scrutiny also surrounds the widespread reliance on levee systems. Critics say the structures constrict rivers by preventing them from spreading across natural floodplains — making them more sensitive to major or near-historic increases in height, even in response to historically unremarkable episodes of precipitation.

Reporter covering energy and the environment for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.