Iowa volunteers brace for floodwaters
DAVENPORT, Iowa (CNN) -- Volunteers rushed to shore up levees and lay sandbags along the banks of the Mississippi River as rain and melting snow pushed the waterway over its banks across the upper Midwest.
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who declared 10 counties disaster areas on Monday, said the flood could be worse than those that struck his state in 1993 and 1997.
"We have the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Transportation, our emergency management division (and) our Iowa National Guard working with local folks to try to put hundreds of thousands of sandbags in appropriate locations to try to reduce the damage and the impact." Vilsack said. "It's just a race against time."
Nine counties in Wisconsin and 16 in Minnesota already have declared states of emergency as floods forced hundreds from their homes. The Mississippi was expected to reach record or near-record levels as rain and late snowmelt drove the river higher.
"It was a very tough winter for us. We didn't have the normal thaw, and as a result we're getting essentially all of this water at one time," Vilsack said.
Flooding closes 400 miles of river
Forecasters predict that continuing rains would push the river crest just shy of the 1993 record of 22.5 feet in Davenport, Iowa. The river is expected to keep rising through the weekend, reaching its top levels early next week.
Volunteers worked to lay sandbags and build dikes, "but when you get to these record levels, there's nothing you can do," Vilsack said.
Iowans worry that a forecast of more rain could overwhelm the preparations they have made so far.
"We hope the forecast of 23 feet, 5 inches on Thursday will work out, because we're prepared for that," said McGregor, Iowa, resident Jerry Haas. "But then you have to rush all of a sudden if that changes and rush like mad to keep up with them."
More than 400 miles of the Mississippi, from Muscatine, Iowa, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, were closed to navigation because of the floods. Rail service is also disrupted: Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe have stopped trains between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
In St. Paul, the river topped 23 feet for the first time since the 1960s, covering four city parks and a downtown airport for small planes. Officials expected the airport would not reopen until May or June.
Dikes holding in Wisconsin city
Downstream, the Mississippi crested Wednesday morning in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Dikes here held firm as the river crested more than 4 feet above flood stage, but about a foot and a half under the capacity of the dike system of this southwestern Wisconsin city.
Keith Butler, dispatch supervisor for La Crosse County Emergency Management, said the river crested at 16.4 feet at 5 a.m.
"There have been no breaches," Butler said. "People have been out monitoring the dikes all night long."
Sewer and water services were cut off in some areas, roads were closed, and basements filled with water. But officials said it could have been even worse.
"We're beaten and battered, but not broken," said Stephen Popovich, mayor of the St. Croix community of St. Mary's Point, Minnesota, just north of Afton, where 40 homes had watery basements.
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