River towns brace for further flooding over weekend

Saturday, April 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, Wis. (AP) _ Weary residents continued their battle to keep the Mississippi River out of their homes Saturday as they waited for the river's flood to crest and begin receding.

Scattered showers fell at Prairie du Chien early Saturday as the river inched closer to its expected crest of 23.9 feet. The river was at 23.75 feet Saturday morning, nearly 8 feet above flood stage.

The rain was already factored into the river's predicted peak and the National Weather Service canceled a flash flood watch for the area.

While the water was still rising slowly at Prairie du Chien, it had dropped to 15.93 feet Saturday at La Crosse, some 60 miles upstream, but that was still hip deep in the home of Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. The Mississippi crested there at 16.4 feet on Wednesday.

``The Mississippi will remind us every once in a while who's boss,'' Kind said after touring the area Friday.

``It'll be a good month or two before everything's back to normal,'' said Gene Swan, bailing water out of his mother-in-law's home at French Island near La Crosse.

Illinois Gov. George Ryan planned to survey the flooding at East Dubuque, Savanna and the Quad Cities by helicopter on Saturday. Ryan called up the Illinois National Guard to help and declared a disaster in eight river counties.

Pressure from the rising river broke a sewer main in East Dubuque on Friday, spilling sewage in two neighborhoods. Crews fixed the break, and about 100 displaced residents were allowed to return home, City Manager Mick Michel said.

The city's neighbor in Iowa encountered minor inconveniences as the Mississippi closed in on its crest. The river was expected to reach 25 feet at Dubuque on Saturday, but the city remained safe thanks to a flood wall built in 1965 that can withstand river heights of 33 feet.

``We're not like Davenport _ we build our flood wall,'' said Karen Thompson, noting the city downstream which has not constructed a flood wall to hold back the surging river.

Thompson played the slot machines at Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino, hardly aware of the rising water. She said the flooding did not dampen crowds at the casino and nearby Diamond Jo riverboat casino.

``We're in pretty good shape compared to a lot of places,'' said John Klostermann, Dubuque's street and sewer supervisor. ``It's kind of uneventful _ that's the way we like it.''

In Davenport, the largest city along the upper Mississippi River lacking a flood control system, the river was expected to crest at 22 feet to 22.5 feet on Tuesday. Public Works Director Dee Bruemmer said the city should avoid major damage if crest predictions hold.

With sandbag levees and water pumps still keeping water from overtaking many homes in Prairie du Chien, some residents weren't letting the flooding get in the way of their plans as the sun set on a warm Friday evening.

Dan Noble and Tom Bouzek stood in water that reached above their knees as they drank bottles of beer and cooked bratwurst over a partially submerged charcoal grill outside Rowdy's Bar & Grill.

``He's crazy,'' said Deb Noble, who stood on dry land watching her husband.

In La Crosse, 60 miles upriver from Prairie du Chien, a state of emergency remained in effect Friday. The river was expected to remain around 16 feet throughout the weekend _ 4 feet above flood stage.

Cliff and Thelma Standorf, both 86, were not sandbagging or pumping water out of the home they have lived in during their entire 66-year marriage. Before the flood, the couple already made plans to move to an apartment five miles from the river.

``We're getting old enough. We can't take it anymore,'' Standorf said.