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Flooding Returns to Midwest

By Edward Walsh
The Washington Post

CHICAGO

Like a recurring nightmare, torrential rain of the sort that soaked much of the Midwest earlier this year is again causing flooding in parts of the region, disrupting commercial barge traffic on the Mississippi River and delaying repairs to ruptured levees that may not be fully restored before the annual rise in river levels next spring.

The Mississippi was forecast to crest again Monday at 38.3 feet above river bottom at St. Louis, more than eight feet above flood stage, while the swollen Missouri River continued to threaten towns near levees that were breached by the earlier flooding.

In northeastern Oklahoma, meanwhile, National Guard troops helped to evacuate dozens of people from their homes because of flooding along the Spring and Neosho rivers.

While the heavy rains ended Sunday, the renewed surge in river levels was a reminder of the legacy of the Great Flood of `93, the effects of which will be felt well into next year, according to officials of the Army Corps of Engineers and others.

Except for a few hours on Sept. 13, the Mississippi has not been below its 30-foot flood stage at St. Louis since June 27. The river -- a vast commercial thoroughfare on which millions of tons of grain, oil, coal and other products are shipped annually -- was closed to barge traffic from St. Paul, Minn., to south of St. Louis for almost two months during the summer because of the flooding.

There was another disruption to river traffic last Thursday when high water forced the Corps to close Locks and Dam 27 just north of St. Louis. The facility was reopened Sunday, but Paul Kornberger, chief of the structures section for the Corps' St. Louis division, said Monday that "we're close to going out of operation again. Anything that would cause the water to rise in St. Louis and we'd have to go out again."

Barge traffic on the river is also being slowed by speed and other restrictions imposed by the Coast Guard to prevent further damage to weakened levees.

The Coast Guard lost about 50 percent of its navigational aids, such as buoys and lights, on the upper Mississippi during the summer flooding and has spent almost $1.5 million replacing them, according to Coast Guard officials.

Ken Gardner, a spokesman for the Corps in St. Paul, said dredging crews have been working around the clock to deepen and widen the river's main channel at trouble spots between Wabasha, Minn., and Alma, Wis. The same problem could occur at other spots along the river when the high water finally recedes, Gardner said.