Potential for More Flooding Makes Rebuilding Risky
Potential for More Flooding Makes Rebuilding Risky
Dec. 21, 1993
CHESTERFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ Real estate broker Ed Holthaus is rebuilding his flood-devastated offices. But because the threat of more Midwest flooding remains high, all of his hard work and gumption could be in vain.
''Sure, there's a risk,'' said Holthaus, outside an office that was swallowed by the rampaging Missouri River in July. ''But we have to keep moving. We can't sit still. We have to get on with it.''
Apprehension runs as high as the rivers throughout the Midwest. Some of Holthaus's neighbors in this city of 48,000 west of St. Louis had cleaned up from a July 30 flood, only to be devastated by more flooding in September.
And as rebuilding continues in nine flooded states, people are wary. With winter settling in, the ground remains sodden, the rivers are high and many flood-control levees haven't been repaired yet.
''A lot of money has been poured into reconstruction. There is the possibility that money will literally go down the river. If the levees give way, all the work will be for naught,'' said Kenneth Kunkel of the Illinois State Water Survey.
''It may be better to wait. We're advising people that instead of disposing of their sandbags, maybe they should hang on to them for a while,'' Kunkel said.
That's just what flood-weary Midwesterners don't want to hear.
So much water is pooled in farmfields that some people joke about ice skating around the corn stalks. And the probabilities are better than 60 percent that soil moisture levels will be above normal by March 1 in parts of Misouri, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, Kunkel said.
''That soil moisture is at its highest point in the last 40 years, and twice as great as normal. We simply do not have much capacity to absorb more precipitation. It's pretty close to sopping wet,'' Kunkel said.
The possibility of spring flooding depends on the amount of snow pack entering spring and the amount of spring rain. There's a 55 percent probability of wetter than normal precipitation through January in parts of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, according to the National Weather Service.
There's no place for the water to settle either, because the underground pools are brimming too.
''The whole system is backed up. It will take a fair amount of time to get back to normal. There's simply no room. I've been here 20 years, and I've never seen anything like this,'' said Ray Arvidson, professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
So what's a property owner to do?
Mary Dunker gambled that the floodwaters won't return. The muck has been scrubbed from her two-story home in the Chesterfield valley, and she plans to be back for Christmas dinner at home.
''I hate to function from fear. Nothing will be accomplished if we wait,'' she said on her decision to rebuild.
Bud Tilley, a partner in an engineering company, said there wasn't much hesitation in cleaning up and restoring offices that were eight feet under water.
''You can't afford not to come back. What can you do? You have to have a little faith,'' Tilley said.
But others aren't so sure. One Chesterfield businessman walked away right after floodwaters breached Chesterfield's Monarch Levee and ruined his office. A good-bye note scrawled in the window said: ''I'm outta here.''
And Walter Graeler, his 800-acre farm now a bizarre landscape of saturated fields filled with ruined crops and junk deposited by the flood, is holding off on repairs to his gutted farmhouse.
''We're not going to do anything to the house until the levee gets fixed,'' said Graeler, 61, whose home sits a half-mile from the Missouri River.
The Upper Mississippi River Valley had 6,000 miles of levees, a string of earthen banks that if connected would be 1,500 miles longer than the Great Wall of China.
About 70 percent of the 1,800 levees failed, although most of them were privately constructed earth banks to protect farmland. Of the 229 federal levees in the region, two were breached and 39 were damaged or overtopped, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps hopes to repair as many breaches as possible during the winter, knowing that the potential for spring flooding remains high.
''We're still hampered by high water in a lot of areas, and some of the levees are still soggy. We're going to try to do as much as conditions permit. We're at the whim of Mother Nature,'' said Scott Saunders, spokesman for the Corps of Engineers.
Jimmy Ice of Cache, Ill., hopes repairs are made quickly to a floodwall that the roiling Mississippi ruptured in the summer. Ice's farmhouse, located about 150 miles south of St. Louis, was an island until a road was re-opened to cars the first week of December. Some parts of the farm are either under water or turned to the consistency of pudding.
''We can't work this ground. We're surrounded by water. We won't save any of the crop,'' said Ice, 82, whose family lost 1,000 acres of wheat, corn and sorghum.
''This is something I never did see before,'' Ice said. ''If we don't get the levee in, we'll be in trouble again in the spring.