WINFIELD, Mo. – Water from the swollen Mississippi River surged over more than 10 levees Thursday, flooding huge swaths of Missouri farmland as thousands of volunteers continued to pile up sandbags in a desperate bid to protect their communities.
The river blasted a 150-foot breach Wednesday night in a levee east of Winfield, a rural and commuter city of 1,200 about an hour north of St. Louis.
Volunteers from as far away as Utah gathered in the small Missouri town Thursday to shovel sand into bags, but another levee breached, and then another. Hundreds of homes filled with water. Some were torn off their foundations and seen floating down the river.
“The entire eastern part of the county is under water, and the water keeps on rising,” said Cpl. Andy Binder, spokesman for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department.
Thursday morning, President Bush arrived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator R. David Paulison to take a helicopter tour of the flood-ravaged farmland.
“I know a lot of farmers and cattlemen are hurting right now, along with the city people,” Bush said during a stop at Kirkwood Community College. “Our hearts and prayers, from around the nation, go out to people here.”
Already, severe storms and flooding have killed 24 people and injured 148 in six states and forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes. As of Thursday morning, FEMA and other federal agencies had distributed water enough for 1.1 million people, 12.8 million sandbags, 2,500 tarps and 4,000 rolls of plastic sheeting.
Though the flood has receded in many places, the waters are flowing downstream, and the Mississippi River continues to rise.
“The concern now is the Mississippi River between the Quad Cities and St. Louis,” said Bob Powers, deputy assistant administrator for FEMA.
The river is expected to crest today near Hannibal, and on Saturday in St. Louis and Clarksville, Iowa. But the flood risk is lessened in St. Louis because the Mississippi widens there and meets several tributaries with lower-than-normal water levels.