Floodwaters surge over Midwest levees

(CNN) — Water spilled over two levees on the Mississippi River on Wednesday, bringing the number of levees compromised in recent Midwest floods to 20, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

A school of deer plow through high waters north of Quincy, Illinois.

A school of deer plow through high waters north of Quincy, Illinois.

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Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said surges could be attributed to the volume of water that entered 14 main river systems in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri and Minnesota.

“For a lot of these levees, you could not prevent this,” Van Antwerp said.

He said more than 28,000 people have registered for FEMA assistance.

Congressional leaders on Wednesday reached a deal to allocate $2 billion in disaster aid to areas in the Midwest dealing with massive flooding.

At least two dozen people have been killed in the floods and 148 have been injured, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison said Wednesday.

Between 35,000 and 40,000 people evacuated the area, he said, though just about 600 people were in shelters — a low number he attributed to the resourcefulness of people to find places to stay.

In Adams County, Illinois, water from Wednesday’s activity flooded about 25,000 acres of farmland and forced about 60 people from their homes, according to the Adams County Emergency Management Agency.

The Army Corps of Engineers said floodwaters had spilled over one levee at Indian Grave. But local officials and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office reported that the levee breached in two places about 6:20 a.m., pouring water into Hancock and Adams counties. The counties border each other along the Mississippi.

Another levee at Lima Lake was breached at about 1:30 a.m., according to Blagojevich’s office. Both of the breached levees were in Adams County.

“It’s kind of a sad day,” Hancock County Sheriff John Jefferson said. “People put in a lot of manpower [to build up the levees], and all was lost.”

“There’s a lot of wheat fields down here just about ready to be harvested, and they’re going to lose all that,” Jefferson said. “The corn crop, the bean crop that’s up, is all going to be lost. And the real work’s going to come after the flood recedes. It’ll take years to get this ground back into shape to farm it.”

All residents in the area had been evacuated, Jefferson said. Video Watch why Illinois breach helps Iowa »

Blagojevich spent the day visiting flood-ravaged towns, taking an aerial tour of Quincy and the rest of Adams County.

Blagojevich has deployed 1,100 National Guard troops to assist with sandbagging and other efforts to stabilize levees, working alongside 300 prisoners and hundreds of residents.

The city of Quincy sits on a bluff that protects it from flooding, but local officials are worried about their water treatment plant, just outside of town, the governor said.

“We are preparing for the worst,” said Blagojevich, who previously declared disasters in 19 counties. “I have never seen anything at the magnitude I’ve see so far, and we’re being told by the experts that the challenges are going to get more severe.”

The levees are about 45 miles south of another levee breached Tuesday morning near the small village of Gulfport, Illinois, prompting about 400 people to leave their homes in Henderson County.

The water flooded acres, shut down a train station and ruined crops.

Farmer Jim Olsen said his crop of beans and corn was ruined.

“It is not going to be a farm this year,” he said, staring at his damaged land. “It is a total loss.”

Near Oakville, Illinois, floodwaters covered about 21 square miles of corn and soybean fields, including Richard Siegle’s farm.

All that was visible of the house Siegle built in 1972 was the roof and an American flag on a tall pole waving in the submerged front yard. On a nearby farm building, pigs clustered on the roof, eating whatever they could find that floated down the river. Video Watch pigs stranded on roof »

“Who ever thought that we’d see water this deep here?” Siegle asked.

“You don’t know where to start,” Siegle said. “It just depends on what Mother Nature does, when the water goes out, whether they get the levee repaired. There’s not any assurance that we’ll get the levee repaired.”

In Missouri, water spilled over eight levees that protected mostly agricultural property, the St. Louis district said.

One was intentionally breached last week to minimize damage, said Nicole Dalrymple of the Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis district.

Authorities on Tuesday closed the Great River Bridge connecting Illinois to Iowa, according to the sheriff’s office of Henderson County.

Across the Mississippi in Burlington, Iowa, water levels have “dropped a bit,” but may rise again, according to David Miller, administrator for the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division.

“The good news is, the floodwater is receding in much of the state,” Miller said. “The bad news is, we’re still in a flood fight.”

He said officials are also monitoring flooding at Keokuk, Iowa, a riverside town, where water levels are expected to crest by Thursday.

Levees elsewhere along the Mississippi were being topped with sandbags as the river, fed by its flooded tributaries, continued to rise.

President Bush plans to visit Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday to see the flood-damaged regions, according to White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto.

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~ by richart123 on June 19, 2008.

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