Mississippi River threatens more Midwest levees

ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) — The Mississippi River claimed new tracts of farmland overnight north of St. Louis, Missouri, as officials warned that the swollen river could breach four or five more levees Thursday around the Gateway City.

The presidential helicopter flies above flood damage on Thursday in Iowa City, Iowa.

The presidential helicopter flies above flood damage on Thursday in Iowa City, Iowa.

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About 11 levees have been breached in the St. Louis area since the flooding began, said Officer Alan Dooly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-St. Louis District.

St. Louis’ woes add to the growing number of levee breaches that have been occurring from Iowa to Missouri since the flooding started last week, according to the Corps of Engineers.

Floodwaters have compromised more than 20 levees from Iowa to Missouri, according to the Corps of Engineers.

The floods in six states have killed two dozen people, injured 148 and forced at least 35,000 out of their homes, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison said Wednesday.

President Bush arrived Thursday in Iowa for an aerial tour of the flood-ravaged state, where damages are expected to exceed $1 billion.

“Obviously, to the extent that we can help immediately, we want to help and then plan for recovery,” the president said at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Video Watch Bush speak to Iowans »

“You’re exhausted; I understand that,” Bush said. “The good news is, the people in Iowa are tough-minded people. You’ll come back better.”

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, who toured the area with Bush, echoed the president’s sentiments.

“We will rebuild this state and this city, and it will be even better and even stronger as a result,” Culver said.

As flooding subsided Thursday and people began returning to their homes in Iowa, Missourians attempted to mitigate the effects of the deluge.

Forecasters predicted high crests over the next six days from Canton, Missouri, to Chester, Illinois. Video Watch CNN’s Reynolds Wolf stand waist-high in water »

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, who toured the Hannibal and Canton areas Wednesday, has called up about 700 National Guard members in his state to help sandbag, monitor levees and secure areas.

Residents of Lincoln County, Missouri, were urged to evacuate to higher ground after four levees were breached Thursday, Lincoln County Emergency Operations Command said.

“The conditions of the Lincoln County levees are worsening by the hour,” the agency said Thursday night. “As the levees deteriorate, we can expect further breaches throughout the night.”

It was not immediately clear how many people were affected by the breaches.

Emergency officials issued evacuation orders for residents east of Winfield, according to Andy Binder, a spokesman for Lincoln County. Video Watch floodwaters surge through Winfield »

In Louisiana, Missouri, a town of about 3,900, about 50 blocks were underwater, but the mayor said he was confident residents would persevere.

“There’s one thing about Midwesterners,” Mayor Don Giltner said. “We’re resilient as hell.”

The river is expected to crest in Louisiana on Saturday about 13 feet above flood stage. Sandbagging efforts would continue until Thursday.

“We knew it was coming, we knew when it was going to get here, and we knew when it was going to leave us,” Giltner said. “We look around and realize that we’re not in as bad shape as others, and we’re grateful for that.”

Canton Mayor Joe Clark said he expects the town’s earthen levee to hold against the crest Thursday night of about 27.2 feet — 13.2 feet above flood stage — noting that the river stage Wednesday had been about a half-foot higher.

Downstream in Clarksville, Missouri, water poured into the town’s riverfront street.

Nearby businesses had been sandbagged, and pumps were keeping the water at bay and “working fairly well,” said Katie Rooney, an AmeriCorps member who was helping with coordination efforts.

Additional walls would be erected Thursday and Friday, she said.

Waters spilled over two Mississippi River levees Wednesday, pouring into west-central Illinois, covering fertile farmland there and pushing residents from their homes, officials said.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office reported that the river breached one levee in two places, pouring water into Hancock and Adams counties. The counties border each other along the Mississippi.

He 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. See what causes a levee to fail »

Nearly 25,000 acres of corn and bean farms were affected by the flooding, according to the Adams County Emergency Management Agency.

The levees in Adams County are about 45 miles south of another levee that 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 of land, shut down a train station and ruined crops.

“It is a total loss,” said farmer Jim Olsen, whose crop of beans and corn was ruined. He said he would have no farm this year. iReport.com: See homes and crops under water

Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, the chief of the Corps of Engineers, said Wednesday that water had inundated 14 “main river systems” in the Midwest.

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~ by richart123 on June 20, 2008.

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