Minnesota, Wisconsin watch flood-strained dikes
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- As the Mississippi River nears record levels, officials say the length of time it stays high could be critical in how much flood damage results.
The river is expected to crest south of St. Paul perhaps as early as Wednesday and stay at that level through Friday, said Kevin Smith, director of communications for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
A crest lasting that long will strain dikes and levees, he said. "If they can't hold, we've got trouble."
Smith said residents and officials are just waiting for nature to take its course. "Everybody seems to be as ready as possible," he said.
There are no major evacuations of cities or towns, he said, but residents of some individual homes in vulnerable areas were asked to leave.
'Mighty Mississippi flexes its muscles'
The situation is similar along the Mississippi south into Illinois and Iowa. Flooding has spread river water over low-lying fields, but so far higher areas and population centers protected by dikes and levees are remaining relatively dry.
On Abel-Essman Island, just north of Guttenberg, Iowa, about 200 of the island's 300 residents have left in anticipation of flooding this weekend, resident Richard Burroughs told CNN.
However, Burroughs, his wife and others plan to stay.
"This is a way of life that we've chosen," he said. "Normally it's beautiful. It's God's country, and once in a while the mighty Mississippi flexes its muscles and it's not so great. But we'll clean up and we'll prevail."
He said the road to the island was closed Monday by rising water, and the crest is expected Friday.
"We take all the flood predictions very seriously," Burroughs said. "We assume the worst prediction is going to be somewhere close. So we hauled out everything that we could haul out of our (home's) lower level."
More than 100 miles down river, in Davenport, Iowa, Mayor Phil Yerington said his city expects a crest not quite as high as the one in 1993, when water hit its highest level in the past 35 years. Since that flood, he said, the city has built more dams and levees and added pumps.
"We're getting pretty good at this," he said. "The people pull together in this community. We've delivered 141,000 ... sandbags to residents and businesses along the river. The volunteers are starting to come out in very good numbers. And so we are preparing the best we can."
Navigation on the Mississippi has been banned from Minneapolis to Muscatine, Iowa, about 25 miles down river from Davenport.
Lower crest predicted for Wisconsin
The National Weather Service said Tuesday that the river will crest about half a foot lower than previously expected along the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. It said the prediction was lowered because flows into the river from the Chippewa and St. Croix rivers are lower than expected.
The lower prediction means the river would crest about a foot-and-a-half below the 18-foot design limit of the dike system that La Crosse, Wisconsin, built after a record river level of 17.9 feet in 1965.
Still, the current river levels are historically high.
"It could be the second-worst flooding ever for La Crosse," said Wisconsin Emergency Management spokeswoman Lori Getter in Madison. "Hopefully we'll get through this. The crest should last about 36 hours.
"The next two to three days are critical. By the weekend the river should be going down."
24-hour dike patrols
Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum has been keeping close tabs on the situation.
"We're looking at the next 24 hours having the first peak of waters, the first crest, and now the forecast appears for thunderstorms later in the week so we may now have another crest over the weekend," McCallum said.
McCallum declared a state of emergency in nine southwestern Wisconsin counties Monday, freeing additional state resources to help with flood relief efforts.
Flooding has already been extensive.
The river is two to three miles wide in some areas, said La Crosse County Emergency management coordinator Al Spaulding, but most of the flooding has been in lightly populated areas, so far.
County crews armed with sand and sandbags have been tending to the dikes and levees as the flood crest approaches.
"We have people on the dikes patrolling them 24 hours a day until the river is down to 15 feet," Spaulding said. "We want to make sure water isn't coming through."
For La Crosse County, the flooding problems have mostly been minor.
"We did evacuate fire station No. 2 as a precaution," Spaulding said. "There's a dike near the fire station." The equipment has been moved to another fire house.
Less than a dozen homes have been damaged in the La Crosse area, although some low-lying roads and parks are under as much as 5 feet of water.
Rising ground water has been a bigger problem than the floodwaters for most in La Crosse County.
Water has been seeping into basements as the water table rises along with the river.
Spaulding said the high ground water levels could continue for "maybe the next couple weeks."
The weather has turned more cooperative as the river crest approaches. The snow squalls and 40 mph winds from Monday have turned into partly cloudy skies and winds of less than 20 mph.
Spaulding said wind blew some water over the dikes Monday but did not damage them.
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