- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2008

WINFIELD, Mo. (AP) | The weakest spot left along the swollen Mississippi River may be the Pin Oak levee, a barrier so tenuous that soil slides down its slope.

Only National Guard soldiers and firefighters in life vests are allowed to stack sandbags, because volunteers and heavy equipment could sink. A single muskrat recently created a geyser of riverwater by digging into the berm.

But the earthen levee is all that’s still protecting 100 houses, a city park, several businesses and 3,000 acres of agricultural land in East Winfield, one of the last towns where the upper Mississippi was expected to crest.

For days, emergency management officials in St. Louis. A storm with thunder and lightning Tuesday was only the latest impediment to the desperate attempts to shore up the Pin Oak.

“This storm is not a good thing,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

While levees in the nearby communities of Elsberry and Old Monroe held strong, an urgent call went out this week for volunteers to fill up to 50,000 sandbags here.

The Mississippi was expected to finally crest at Winfield sometime late Wednesday, and to flow at its high-water mark - more than 11 feet above flood stage - for several more days. A disturbance as minor as a passing boat could lead to disaster.

Overnight and into Tuesday morning, the porous and heavy soil inside the levee created what’s called a slide, or a run of soil sinking down the slope of the levee’s dry side.

At first light Tuesday, workers used heavy sheet plastic and about 5,000 sandbags to create a 15-by-160 foot “mattress” to add weight and pressure to the weak spot.

Officials spent nearly six hours choking off the leak caused by a muskrat burrowing in the soft ground early Monday.

Several miles down the river, the Elm Point levee in St. Charles succumbed early Tuesday. But the breach there swamped only a soccer field and a sod farm, and St. Charles Assistant Fire Chief Rich Oney said residents of a nearby mobile home park would likely stay dry.

The flooding from the Elm Point levee break will come close to only two homes, he said, and the residents of both have decided to stay put.

A total of 35 levees have overtopped during the Midwest flooding, and seven of them had been federally designed and constructed, said Ed Hecker, chief of the office of homeland security for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said the nation’s levee system wasn’t designed to hold back such extraordinarily high flood waters.

The river continued to recede Tuesday from the Iowa line down through the lock and dam at Saverton, about 90 miles north of St. Louis. The river had dropped a foot Tuesday morning at Canton following a Sunday crest of 13 feet above flood stage.

Also Tuesday, the governors of President Bush to allow the federal government to cover 90 percent of disaster-related costs incurred by state and local governments. The federal government usually covers 75 percent of such costs after the president declares a disaster.

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