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With Mississippi River cresting or falling at most spots, towns' optimism grows

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ST. LOUIS — Officials in several Mississippi River towns were cautiously optimistic Thursday that they'll soon emerge from this year's flood with relatively minor damage.

Water levels were dropping in several places, including Clarksville, where a furious sandbagging effort over the past week has successfully protected homes and businesses in the town of 450 residents.

The river was at or near crest in the nearby towns of Elsberry, Foley and Winfield. Winfield City Clerk Roschell Eaton said a foot of dirt was added to the top of the levee protecting the town, and the levee was holding.

Not that she was taking anything for granted. "It's a levee and it's the river — it's unpredictable," Eaton said.

In Foley, inmates from a county jail filled sandbags and placed them atop a levee protecting the town of 160 residents. Sandbags also patched places where water was leaking through the earthen levee.

"There were little spots but we got them all," Mayor Ken Jaspering said. "It's always dangerous, don't get me wrong. But in this case, we were on top of it."

In Grafton, Illinois, a marina closed and a downtown barbecue restaurant was evacuated after floodwater swamped one small section of downtown's main thoroughfare. Police Chief Chris Sullivan said the rest of the town, a popular tourist spot 40 miles north of St. Louis, was open for business.

"We didn't expect flooding this year because it was so dry at the beginning," Sullivan said. "But I believe we dodged a much larger one this time."

The flood arose suddenly after torrential rains in the upper Midwest in the past two weeks. In many parts of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, the flood was among the 10 highest on record.

But unlike some recent floods, the water is falling quickly, which bodes well for levees — the more saturated they become, the more likely they are to break.

Several locks and dams on the Mississippi River remained closed from Muscatine, Iowa, south to near St. Louis, bringing barge traffic to a standstill. Portions of several roadways are also closed, including a section of U.S. 61 near the Iowa-Missouri border, and U.S. 54 on the Illinois approach to the Champ Clark Bridge at Louisiana, Missouri. One of two bridges in Quincy, Illinois, also remains closed.


Associated Press writer Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.

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