ST. LOUIS — The fast-rising Mississippi River on Thursday neared levels unseen since the historic 1993 flood — and topped it in at least one place — as the bulging Big Muddy threatened levees and forced a Missouri town’s residents to head for higher ground.
The National Weather Service website on Thursday afternoon showed the river level at 22.64 feet at the Quad Cities in Iowa and Illinois, just above the 22.63-foot mark reached on July 9, 1993.
Davenport is one of the Quad Cities, and its downtown remained underwater after the river tore through a temporary barrier earlier in the week. Davenport has no permanent levee or floodwall.
Davenport wasn’t the only community along the Mississippi experiencing a flashback to 1993, the benchmark for catastrophic flooding in much of the Midwest. Thousands of acres of farmland were already swamped, hundreds of roads shut down and two Mississippi River bridges — one at Quincy, Illinois, and one at Louisiana, Missouri — were forced to close.
Sandbagging — an almost-annual ritual in many river towns — was underway, even in places with flood protection. A levee holds back the river at downtown Hannibal, Missouri, but each day brings a higher crest prediction. Volunteers are adding sandbags to the levee just in case.
Sandbagging isn’t an option at West Alton, Missouri, because the levee is so long, so the 500 or so residents were under a voluntary evacuation. The river is expected to crest Saturday half a foot higher than the levee at the town 20 miles north of St. Louis can hold.
West Alton Emergency Management Director Gary Machens and friends were busy moving farm equipment to higher ground. He was taking the whole thing in stride.
“We’ve been through this before,” Machens said. “It’s part of living in a flood plain.”
The latest round of flooding was spurred by torrents of rain, and river flooding wasn’t the only concern.
Parts of the Ozarks region of Missouri received up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain Wednesday night and Thursday morning, prompting flash flooding that forced hasty evacuations in some areas.
The body of Robbie Turner, 59, of Ava, Missouri, was found Wednesday. Authorities believe he was camping alone near Ava and got caught in waters from a flooded creek.
In northern Indiana, authorities say a 2-year-old boy was killed on Thursday when his mother drove past a “high water” sign in Wabash County and into a flooded road. The vehicle was swept by the current and completely submerged. The mother escaped but was unable to rescue the child, whose body was later found inside the vehicle.
Heavy rain in Michigan swamped homes and closed a stretch of a freeway near Detroit, where sandbags were stacked to curb flooding near canals off the Detroit River. More heavy rain through Friday morning raised concerns about additional flash flooding.
Near Memphis, the National Weather Service forecasts the river will rise to 44.5 feet, six inches above flood stage, beginning next Saturday and cresting May 14. Minor flooding is expected, NWS said.