Levee breaks, threatening homes

Friday, June 27th 2008, 11:06 am
By: News 9

WINFIELD, Mo. (AP) -- A corner of an earthen levee broke Friday, releasing Mississippi River waters that officials predicted would "ultimately inundate" part of an eastern Missouri town.

The National Weather Service said in a flash flood warning shortly before 6 a.m. that it didn't know how fast the water was moving. It was also uncertain about the condition of the rest of the Pin Oak Levee at Winfield, about 45 miles northwest of St. Louis.

The surrounding rural area is also expected to flood.

For days, flood fighters at Winfield have been concerned about trouble spots on the northeast side of the levee, where they hurriedly patched mudslides with sandbags. However, the breach occurred on the south section of the levee.

White water poured through a hole that appeared to be about 30 feet long.

Officials said about three-quarters of the 100 homes had already been evacuated. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it received a report from the agency's flood-fighting personnel at 5:20 a.m. Friday that the levee was breaking. Sirens blared shortly before 6 a.m.

Sheriff's deputies went door-to-door yelling, "The levee broke. Get out."

Winfield resident Debbie Halcomb, 52, reached by telephone early Friday, said she hadn't yet evacuated. She and others worked to pack up a television, bedding and other items, like paper towels.

She had been sleeping in a bed elevated on milk crates to protect it from potential flood waters when the siren sounded.

"Oh my God. I was hoping it would hold, but it didn't," she said. "I think we probably lost it on this last bunch of rain."

Halcomb had regularly been driving over to the levee to peer at it through binoculars, and credited emergency responders for days of work to try to save the earthen structure, saying they had done "a fantastic job."

Denise Marshall, 43, a stay-at-home mother who lives in the flooding neighborhood, said her family had gotten out safely more than a week ago because they feared the levee wouldn't hold. She said it was some comfort to have their clothes and keepsakes, such as family photos.

Marshall's home flooded in 1993 and had to be gutted and cleaned. While she thinks she could clean up again after this flood, she thought it would be hard on her children and would make for a long, hot summer.

"It's the apprehension of wanting to get home," she said.