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Rivers recede in wake of Missouri levee breaches

From Martin Savidge, CNN
June 5, 2013 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rain in the forecast is unlikely to push river levels up significantly
  • NEW: Rivers are receding around St. Louis
  • NEW: Water headed downstream should raise river levels south of St. Louis
  • Hundreds of residents were evacuated after river levees failed

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West Alton, Missouri (CNN) -- Residents of communities north of St. Louis fled the onrush of river waters this week, after two levees breached, but Wednesday brings relief, as rivers continue to retreat, weather forecasters say.

Although some thunderstorms are approaching from the west, they should not drop enough rain to refill the receding currents of the the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers at St. Louis, according to CNN's weather unit.

Downstream on the Mississippi, at Cape Girardeau, water arriving from St. Louis is expected to push the river's level to 45 feet, according to the National Weather Service. At currently just over 43 feet, it stands 11 feet above flood stage there.

Levee breaches

A 100- to 150-foot section of levee gave way outside West Alton, Missouri, Tuesday near the point where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi, St. Charles County's emergency management office reported. Residents of an estimated 43 homes in the area were told to evacuate.

Crews haul away a mangled truck on Sunday, June 2, that storm chasers Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras and Carl Young were using to track the tornado that hit El Reno, Oklahoma. The three men, who had devoted their lives to hunting powerful storms died in the middle of the chase. Seventeen tornadoes were reported in the Oklahoma City and St. Louis areas on Friday, May 31. Crews haul away a mangled truck on Sunday, June 2, that storm chasers Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras and Carl Young were using to track the tornado that hit El Reno, Oklahoma. The three men, who had devoted their lives to hunting powerful storms died in the middle of the chase. Seventeen tornadoes were reported in the Oklahoma City and St. Louis areas on Friday, May 31.
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The levee failed around noon (1 p.m. ET). By evening, authorities were scrambling to bolster about a three-quarter-mile section of levee near Portage des Sioux, about nine miles upstream from West Alton.

The area is home to a nearly 1,000-megawatt coal-burning power plant, and officials were hauling truckloads of stone and heavy earth-moving equipment to the site in an attempt to prevent the levee from failing.

On Monday emergency teams rushed to get hundreds of people to safety, after a levee breach on the Missouri River near West Alton. Many residents didn't need to be told twice to get out.

"I want to be safe rather than sorry," Heather Wendle said. "I don't want to take the chances."

From trickle to torrent

After weeks of heavy rain in the upper Midwest, the Mississippi is still running above flood stage at St. Louis, in spite of dropping water levels, the Corps of Engineers reported.

The flood waters stand in contrast to the near river drought a few months ago.

The Mississippi had been running so low that the Corps feared it would have to close the waterway to barge traffic. In December, the Corps of Engineers had hundreds of tons of rock dug out of the river at Thebes, Illinois, about 125 miles downriver from St. Louis, to make sure barges could pass.

But Monday, the Coast Guard shut down a section of the river at St. Louis -- because the water was too high for safe navigation.

CNN's Holly Yan, Jennifer Feldman, Cristy Lenz and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.

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