As many as 30 more levees may overflow along the Mississippi River from Burlington, Iowa, to St. Louis, the government said Wednesday.
Twenty levees already have been topped by floodwaters this week, the Army Corps of Engineers said. Twenty to 30 others could overflow if sandbagging efforts fail to raise the height of the structures.
The levees in danger protect rural, industrial and agricultural areas, not heavily populated towns. The levees protecting large towns are not as at risk of overflowing, officials said.
Storms and flooding across six states this month have killed 24 people, injured 148 and caused more than $1.5 billion in estimated damage in Iowa alone – a figure that's likely to increase as river levels climb in Missouri and Illinois.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said two levees in Illinois have broken and a dam in Morgan County, Ind., has been significantly damaged.
A 280-mile stretch of the Mississippi River remained closed between Fulton, Ill., and Winfield, Mo., because of flooding, and is expected to remain closed for at least 10 more days. Lynn Muench, of the towboat and barge trade group The American Waterways Operators, said as many as 10 tows – each with as many as 15 barges – were stuck on the upper Mississippi River.
Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt sent 600 members of the National Guard to the northeastern part of the state, plus an additional 100 to the St. Louis area to help towns farther downstream. In Illinois, 1,100 Illinois National Guard troops have been sent to help flooded communities.
“My property is right on this street. I've got a lot to lose,” said Tony Dye, whose home in Canton, Mo., stands beneath a levee and well below the river's expected crest. The river was projected to crest at Canton today at nearly 14 feet above flood stage.
Even if population hubs are spared, some fear entire communities may be lost forever, possibly wiping off the map names such as Columbus Junction, Fredonia, Palo and New Hartford.
FEMA Administrator David Paulison said officials shifted concern Wednesday to flooding between St. Louis and the Quad Cities, which include Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in Illinois. Paulison said he expects that the lower part of the Mississippi will absorb the increased water flow without much impact.