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Miss. River Threatens Iowa Town

April 24, 2001

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DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) _ Battling strong wind and bone-chilling temperatures, flood workers prepared Tuesday for the Mississippi River to crest in this southeast Iowa town and hoped their hodgepodge of sandbag levees would withstand near-record water levels.

The punishing flood crest has been rolling down the river through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. It was expected to reach Davenport late Tuesday and peak between 22 and 22.5 feet _ just short of the 1993 record of 22.6 feet.

Davenport is the largest urban area on the upper Mississippi without a permanent flood wall and sandbagging volunteers and National Guard soldiers believed the next few days would test their mettle.

``If the waves keep up like this, the 50 mph winds, it’s going to beat this to hell,″ said Kenny Hagge, who owns a furniture store separated from the Mississippi by a 12-foot levee.

Through Monday, 1,115 homes had been damaged by flooding, said Kathy Stodola, spokeswoman for the Iowa Emergency Management Division. Three hundred people evacuated, most residents of Abel-Essman Island near Guttenberg, where rising water closed the island last week.

Joe Allbaugh, the Federal Emergency Management Agency director, was to visit the Midwest on Thursday to discuss the problem of continual federal bailouts for flood victims.

``The question is: How many times the American taxpayer has to step in and take care of this flooding, which could be easily prevented by building levees and dikes?″ Allbaugh said Monday.

Davenport Mayor Phil Yerington, who opposes the construction of a flood wall, said it wasn’t right to punish residents for dealing with a natural disaster.

``We use this unobstructed river view to the tune of about $100 million worth of tourism money and I don’t think we’re in a position of letting that go,″ Yerington said.

Farther downstream, workers in Niota, Ill., shored up levees where the river was forecast to crest Wednesday.

``With ... two more days to go, I don’t know where we’re going to go,″ firefighter Christi Rutledge said. ``We’re going minute by minute.″

In Pontoosuc, Ill., where there is no levee, water had already surrounded some houses.

``I’ve got four kids, I can’t afford to lose this place,″ said Stacy Gilpin while erecting a sandbag barrier.

A storm in northwestern Wisconsin created flooding conditions around Bayfield and Douglas counties Monday and officials feared the storm could drive river levels up by 2 inches north of La Crosse, Wis., later in the week.

With two ducks swimming in the front yard of his home in Prairie du Chien, Wis., Mike Hendrickson figured it would be a few weeks before he could move his washer, dryer, water heater and furnace back into the basement.

``The first thing I’m going to do is put back the water heater so we can take hot showers,″ he said Monday.

Water was still seeping Monday into the basement of Steven Barnett’s house in Cassville, Wis., as he collected worms off the garage floor. Barnett said there was little else to do while waiting for the flood water to retreat.

``Then all I’ll need is bleach, a bucket and a brush,″ he said. ``I’ll have to go buy a new water heater, too.″

Big Muddy’s Bar and Grill has a scenic view of the river from its base in Burlington, Iowa. On Monday, it also overlooked a river wall made of 200 tons of loose sand encased between concrete road construction barricades.

The 550-foot-long wall was built to withstand a river level of 23 feet, said bar owner Dennis Standard. The river’s crest is predicted at 21 1/2 feet Thursday.

``I’ll be staying here all night until it’s over,″ Standard said Monday. ``I have a rubber mattress to sleep on and I’ll be checking throughout the night.″


On the Net:

National Weather Service: http://www.crh.noaa.gov

National Guard: http://www.state.wi.us/agencies/dma/wiarng.htm

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