Illinois And Missouri Levees Are Breaking After Rare Winter Flood

Levees in Illinois and Missouri are breaking after a rare winter flood. The Mississippi River was already swollen after an unseasonably wet late fall/early winter. Beginning on December 26, 2015, most of Missouri was drenched by heavy rains. More than 10 inches of rain fell over a period of three days, and the area was left flooded, which doesn’t usually happen in the Midwest until spring.

The flood caused evacuations in parts of Missouri and Illinois, especially southwest Missouri, and caused 24 deaths. About two dozen homes were damaged in Cape Girardeau, a community in southwest Missouri, after the Mississippi crested Friday night.

Central and southern Illinois were under flood warnings a day after the area had been slammed by a winter storm which brought sleet and icy rain. Much of the flooding occurred along the Kankakee, Illinois, Sangamon and Vermilion rivers.

In the far southwestern tip of Illinois, authorities urged residents living behind the Len Small levee to evacuate after the levee appeared unable to hold back the Mississippi River any longer. The Len Small levee protects Olive Branch, Hodges Park, Unity and rural areas.

According to the Chicago Tribune, 11 levees broke in Illinois and Missouri. Bruce Rauner, the governor of Illinois, told CNN affiliate KFVS five levees in Alexander County had broken and asked residents to evacuate if asked.

“This is life threatening. It’s not just the water; it’s the temperature. Hypothermia is a big risk to people’s lives.”

The worst of the flooding is over for residents in the St. Louis area, although they are now facing massive cleanup and recovery efforts which will most likely last for weeks. According to Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson, nine people have died in Illinois while fifteen people have died in Missouri.

Missouri is under a state of emergency, and Governor Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard Tuesday afternoon. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner declared seven Illinois counties a disaster on Tuesday with Alexander County added on Wednesday. The Illinois National Guard was ordered into the southern parts of the state. Both governors recently toured the areas hit hard by the flooding as well as the areas where the levees are breaking.

With the rare winter flooding, some people were reminded of the flood from 1993.

In Arnold, a mobile home park was washed away after a small private levee broke from the Meramec cresting.

levees breaking
Arnold, Missouri remains flooded (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Volunteers placed sandbags around homes in St. Mary, Missouri, after a small levee there broke. The town lies 50 miles south of St. Louis.

People who were evacuated from West Alton, Missouri could not return to their homes yet as floodwaters continued to break the levee. West Alton is located near the point where the Mississippi River and Missouri River converge.

The water is moving south and is predicted to affect southern states along the Mississippi River, including Memphis and Dover, both located in Tennessee. The National Weather Service issued a flood advisory for Dover through Monday evening. Officials in Memphis are examining levees to ensure they won’t break.

Louisiana Lieutenant Governor-Elect Billy Nungesser said, “All that water’s coming south and we have to be ready for it. It’s a serious concern. It’s early in the season. We usually don’t see this until much later.”

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings on Friday for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, the Carolinas, Alabama and Kentucky.

[Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images]