CARBONDALE — As rivers swell to major flood stages, regional emergency management officials are preparing for the worst.

An additional two to three inches of rainfall are expected through Thursday in portions of Southern Illinois already ravaged by heavy rains and flash flooding last weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Paducah.

Jackson, Williamson, Alexander and Franklin counties have all released disaster proclamations this week, and a flash flood warning was in effect for all Southern Illinois counties through Friday morning.

The Missouri Department of Transportation announced that it plans to close the Chester Bridge at noon on Thursday. The Mississippi River is projected to reach 44.7 feet at Chester by Thursday morning, according to National Weather Service data.

The Illinois Department of Transportation closed the Cora flood gates on Illinois 3 at the Jackson/Randolph county line on Monday. The sheriff's office was asking motorists to avoid the area and seek alternate routes.

Randolph County Emergency Management Agency Administrator Mike Hoelscher said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was assisting with sandbagging Kaskaskia Island as of Wednesday and was also fortifying levees in Prairie du Rocher.

There have been no evacuations in the county yet, but residents on County Farm Road near the Mississippi and Marys Rivers have been notified that they may become stranded.

“We’ve been very fortunate so far,” Hoelscher said.

The Big Muddy River was expected to be closed to boat traffic starting Wednesday, and access to the Big Muddy and Mississippi levees was restricted to levee commission personnel, according to a news release by the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency issued Wednesday.

Officials from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Jackson County EMA met with officials from Grand Tower and levee districts in the county, and there appeared to be no immediate threat of any levee failure.

Officials have completed sandbagging efforts in De Soto, according to the Jackson County EMA release; water levels in that area should be nearing their predicted crests on Wednesday night. In addition, Illinois Department of Corrections crews completed work in Jackson County, the release states, and were deployed to address infrastructure issues in other areas.

The Big Muddy is projected to crest at 38.8 feet in Murphsyboro on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

On Tuesday, the Murphysboro Emergency Management Agency and Jackson County Emergency Management Agency opened a sandbagging facility at the former Curwood plant, on North 19th Street in Murphysboro. Sand and sandbags were provided, and local residents were invited to fill bags to protect their property.

Brian Manwaring, director of the Murphysboro Emergency Management Agency, said State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, donated several loads of sand to the facility.

“Right now it’s kind of a wait-and-see thing. We’ve done everything we believe we need to do based on what happened in 2011, and we’re watching and monitoring everything,” Manwaring said.

Residents of mobile homes on the easternmost roads of the Mobile Ranch Trailer Court near St. Joseph Memorial Hospital, an area that flooded in 2011, have been notified that they may need to make evacuation plans, Manwaring said.

The Murphysboro EMA has also sandbagged some critical infrastructure sites, including a sewer lift station that flooded in 2011.

“We’re pretty confident in where we are, because things have stayed under the 2011 flood. There were a lot of unknowns in that flood because it was going higher than it ever had. … We’ve got that and we can look back on things we learned then and hopefully do better than we did then,” Manwaring said.

Officials in Williamson County have received reports of homes surrounded by flooding, according to a Williamson County Emergency Management Agency news release issued Wednesday afternoon. Several county roads remain closed.

Williamson County EMA Director Kelly Urhahn is asking residents to report any damaged homes or evacuations by calling 618-998-2123 or 618-694-1741.

Individuals living in flood-prone areas should come up with a plan of action in case evacuation is necessary, Urhahn said in the release. Motorists should detour from flooded roadways, and children should not be allowed to play in flood areas.

Franklin County’s director of emergency management, Ryan Buckingham, said floodwaters in the city of West Frankfort have receded, although there is more sustained flooding in some areas of the county. Several homes near Mitchell Lake have been evacuated.

Franklin County Emergency Management Agency has opened a disaster resource center in the lobby of the West Frankfort Public Safety Building, at 201 E. Nolen St., which will be open to all Franklin County residents affected by the flooding through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Local and nongovernmental agencies will be on hand to give information and resources and collect damage reports.

“This weekend, we’re going to deploy personnel from our medical reserve corps to go door-to-door to make sure people receive local assistance,” Buckingham said.

In the following weeks, the Franklin County EMA will start looking at damage assessment by conducting door-to-door surveys.

“Once we understand picture on individual assistance side, we’re going to switch to public assistance assessment, to include expenses by local government and also what damage occurred to local infrastructure, and tabulate all those costs,” he said.

Buckingham is asking Franklin County residents to submit damage assessment reports by calling 618-439-4362. He said these reports will help the county assess how much was damaged and to provide an accurate report to both the state and federal government about how much damage was sustained.

Alexander County Emergency Management Director Mike Turner said the Mississippi River is expected to crest in Cairo in the early hours of May 7, while the Ohio River won’t crest until May 9; that means the region won’t have peak flow coming down both rivers at the same time.

“Right now we’re still waiting to see what happens. It’s kind of a ‘hurry up and wait’ situation,” Turner said.

Jackson County EMA provided the following safety rules when confronting flooding:

• Get to higher ground.

• Stay away from flood-prone areas, including dips, low spots, valleys and ditches.

• Avoid flooded areas or those with rapid water flow. Do not attempt to cross a flowing stream. It takes only 6 inches of fast-flowing water to sweep you off your feet.

• Don't allow children to play near high water, storm drains or ditches. Hidden dangers could lie beneath the water.

• Flooded roads could have significant damage hidden by flood waters. Never drive through flood waters or flooded roads. If a vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Water only two feet deep can float away most vehicles.

• Do not camp or park vehicles along streams and washes.

• At night, it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

janis.esch@thesouthern.com

618-351-5082

On Twitter: @janis_eschSI

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Janis Esch is a reporter covering Carbondale and SIU.

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