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Flooding closes 2 Mississippi River bridges

Published: Monday, July 7, 2014 12:12 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Two Mississippi River bridges were closed due to flooding, and with more storms in the forecast, there is growing concern that conditions could worsen in parts of Missouri and Illinois.

The Champ Clark Bridge at Louisiana, Missouri, closed at 5 p.m. Sunday, creating an inconvenience for those who travel between Missouri and Illinois on U.S. 54. The next nearest bridge is in Hannibal, Missouri, 35 miles to the north. The river is expected to crest nearly 10 feet above flood stage in Louisiana on Tuesday, but it could be the weekend before water is off the road on the Illinois side of the crossing.

The Quincy Memorial Bridge in Quincy, Illinois, shut down Monday morning. The impact there wasn't as severe because Quincy — with 41,000 residents, the largest Mississippi River town between the Quad Cities and St. Louis — has two bridges. Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Paris Ervin said all traffic is being routed to the Bayview Bridge, which sits higher than the Memorial and is not threatened.

Water levels on the Mississippi shot up in the past couple of weeks due to a series of strong storms in the upper Midwest. Flooding has closed roads and swamped thousands of acres of farmland in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

The river was starting to drop in Iowa towns including Burlington and Keokuk, but still rising in Missouri and Illinois. Crests — in some cases 10 feet above flood stage — were expected this week.

But more rain was on the way, this time in northern Missouri, potentially adding water to the Mississippi just north of St. Louis. This could cause an increase in the Missouri River, which is currently below flood stage. National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Fuchs said 2 inches of rain or more were possible Monday night and Tuesday morning.

"It's definitely getting into the realm of major flooding, no question about it," Fuchs said. "If the Missouri does go up into flood stage, that will aggravate things from St. Louis to points south."

The Missouri flows into the Mississippi north of St. Louis, and the river widens. For now, the Mississippi at St. Louis is expected to crest just a foot above flood stage on Thursday, causing little damage. But if the flood worsens, work along Memorial Drive that is part of the effort to revitalize the area around the Gateway Arch could be delayed.

Route 79 was closed near Clarksville, Missouri, where out-of-town volunteers and inmates from a nearby prison joined local residents in building a sandbag wall. By Monday morning, 95 percent of the wall was complete, Missouri State Emergency Management Agency spokesman Mike O'Connell said.

Clarksville, a tiny town known for its scenic river view and assortment of artist and craft shops, is a popular day destination for St. Louis area tourists. The town has no permanent flood protection.

Homes and businesses were threatened in another tourist town, Grafton, Illinois, north of St. Louis, where the Mississippi is expected to reach 8 1/2 feet above flood stage by Thursday.

The wet start to summer continued Sunday in western Michigan, where storms with winds estimated at more than 80 mph damaged homes and businesses. The National Weather Service said a possible tornado touched down briefly south of Grand Rapids. Injuries were reported, but the severity wasn't immediately known.

Flash flood warnings were in effect in several Michigan counties.

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