Mississippi flood crests at St Louis, launch for Lewis and Clark
Surging flood waters breached more than a
dozen levees in the US Midwestern state of Missouri Friday, a day after
President George W Bush travelled to inspect devastation along the Mississippi River.
As of midday Friday, the National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning for St Louis, Missouri, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, which was once the launching point for the 1804 expedition of explorers William Clark and Meriwether Lewis that began US westward expansion.
Throughout the vast river system that the explorers traveled a century ago, volunteers have been working for weeks hefting thousands of tonnes of sandbags to stem overflowing rivers. Efforts to protect communities and reinforce levees have progressed downstream from areas further north like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where waters were draining and recovery efforts have started.
More than 20 levees have already broken in Iowa and Illinois, and still more are expected to yield in the coming days after as much as 38 centimetres of rain fell this month in some parts of Iowa.
The broken levees, however, release some flood pressure into nearby fields and towns, reducing the impact of flooding downstream and causing the Mississippi crest at lower levels than previously forecast. The river crested at 11.4 metres Friday in St Louis, where the metropolitan area is home to about a million people, short of the 15-metre record reached during flooding in 1993.
"If you have a bathtub full of water and someone comes along with a sledgehammer and knocks out a six-inch chunk of the bathtub, the crest in the bathtub will go down," Alan Dooley, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in St Louis told the Bloomberg news agency.
After weeks of heavy rain, experts are speaking of a record 100- year or even 500-year flood in the Mississippi River basin that drains the North American continent from Minnesota on the Canadian border south to New Orleans.
"I know a lot of farmers and cattlemen are hurting right now, along with the city people," Bush said on Thursday. "A lot of folks are wondering whether or not the government hears about them, too, and I can assure you that I know the governor cares deeply about it, and so do we."
The Midwest flooding has only claimed about two dozen lives, but it has put tens of thousands of acres of prime corn and soy farmland under water and resulted in the deaths of farm animals, broadcast reports said.
Riverside towns are covered to the rooftops in water, transport on the vital Mississippi waterway has come to a standstill in the northern regions and water is polluted with sewage, crop chemicals and other impurities, dpa reported.