- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2008

WINFIELD, Mo. (AP) | A makeshift barrier holding back the Mississippi River failed early Saturday, swamping the low-lying part of the small community of Winfield and ending a valiant but ultimately doomed battle against the surging river.

About 300 National Guard soldiers worked nearly 20 hours to build a levee around a cluster of 100 homes in the flood plain after the river ripped through another levee there early Friday. Officials hoped the barrier would keep the water at bay long enough for it to recede.

It didn’t. Still, those in the town of 720 people said they won’t forget the heroic effort.

“I figured it was a long shot,” said Jan Fox, 50, who finally left her mobile home Friday night when her power went out. She called the show of support overwhelming.

“It was wonderful, all the people who came, the sandbaggers, the military,” she said.

Around town Saturday, gratitude for the last-ditch effort was mixed with a feeling of resignation. Many were ready to move forward.

“It was a valiant effort,” said Chris Azar of the Winfield-Foley Fire Department. “It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t do more, but Mother Nature won. Now, just give it time for the water to recede.”

At a Red Cross shelter at Winfield High School, the sound of hundreds of volunteers’ shovels scooping sand and backhoes transporting sandbags had been a fixture for days. Saturday was largely quiet, while National Guard troops slept on cots inside after working through the night. Some residents began to make plans to stay with family or friends to wait out the river.

The new barrier had a steel frame with layers of dirt, plastic and sandbags, but water began seeping below and through it about midnight, and it was clear in the hours before sunrise it was not going to hold.

At least 60 homes in the cluster were flooded, although authorities were still assessing the damage.

Many other homes in Winfield sit on a hill above the river and are well out of harm’s way.

Winfield, 45 miles northwest of St. Louis, is in Lincoln County, which has been particularly hard hit by flooding caused by torrential rain that fell across the Midwest in early June.

County emergency operations spokesman Andy Binder said 92 homes have been destroyed and 36 others have major damage; 650 can’t be evaluated yet because they remain inaccessible.

In nearby Foley, the mayor requested that anyone who doesn’t live there stay out of town. The wake caused by vehicles driving through floodwaters was causing more problems for already damaged homes.

The Mississippi is receding at Winfield and towns to the north but remains well above flood stage. Crests are expected reach St. Louis on Monday and Cape Girardeau in southeastern Missouri on Wednesday.

Cape Girardeau, where the river’s flood stage is 32 feet, is expected to see a crest of 42.5 feet. At that level, some residents will have to leave and 100,000 acres of farmland will be flooded, the National Weather Service said.

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