MCCLURE — The Mississippi River reached its highest point weeks ago in deep Southern Illinois, but the waters threatening homes in the communities of McClure and East Cape Girardeau continue to rise.
The river remains in “major” flood stage, and the levees that hold it at bay have been saturated for months. That has allowed massive amounts of water to seep through the embankments and flow into McClure and East Cape.
“It went up an inch here yesterday,” said Jamie Myers, volunteer coordinator for relief efforts in McClure, his hometown. “The situation is critical.”
Even as the river recedes, no one knows exactly when the seepage will stop, Myers said, and sandbagging must continue.
In McClure, the issue is manpower.
As of Monday afternoon, Myers had only about 10 volunteers on hand, working to save eight or 10 houses, he said. Another 15 houses could be in jeopardy if waters continue to rise or a sandbag wall breeches, he said.
National guardsmen based in East Cape Girardeau delivered truckloads of sandbags to the community this weekend, Myers said. However, because the sandbagging needed in McClure is on private property, the Guard can’t help lay the bags.
Volunteer turnout was strong over the weekend, with helpers traveling from as far as Tennessee, Myers said. But during the week, he doesn’t have the manpower to lay the bags that the Guard delivered.
“I need strong backs, and I need tall trucks,” he said, to transport the sandbags over flooded roads to the homes where they’re needed.
At some houses the seep-water is within a few inches of overflowing the sandbag walls, he said.
McClure residents have been asked to prepare for voluntary evacuation, and many families have left the affected areas, he added, often leaving someone behind to make sure sump pumps stay on and running.
Already, many basements are flooded and the interiors of some homes are, too, Myers said.
“It’s tough, watching people in this community that worked all their life losing everything they got,” he said. “But we’re fighters and we’re not going to give up.”
McClure had a population of 402 as of the 2010 census. Many of those citizens are elderly, and unable to sandbag their own homes, said McClure Mayor Cheryle Dillon, in an interview with KFVS-12.
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The only current access to town is from the north via Illinois 3, as all other access routes are closed due to flooding.
Meanwhile, sandbagging continues behind the community center in East Cape Girardeau, said Jerry Held, Alexander County Emergency Management Agency assistant coordinator.
“I have never seen the seep-water like this before,” Held said. “The ground has been saturated for so long, and it has no place to run.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has activated an additional 80 Illinois National Guard troops for flood-fighting efforts in Southern Illinois.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker activated an additional 80 Illinois National Guard troops to the region this past Friday, raising the number of guardsmen deployed in the East Cape area to about 142, Held said.
“We’ll be here as long as it takes to get the job done,” he added.
A small neighborhood of mobile homes in East Cape was evacuated June 11, after village officials decided to cut power to the neighborhood as rising waters threatened to make contact with electrical lines underneath the trailers.
Other areas of East Cape have been advised to prepare for voluntary evacuation if necessary, Held said.
Illinois 146, which runs west from East Cape into Missouri, is closed to all traffic except SUVs and pickup trucks, as it is beneath 6 inches or more of water in some places, Held said.
There’s also a 10 p.m. curfew in place for the area, Held said.
On Friday, Pritzker issued another state disaster proclamation, keeping resources mobilized for Alexander, Jackson, Randolph and Union counties.
A temporary Red Cross shelter established at the Zion Methodist Church, in Cape Girardeau, remains available to any Southern Illinois resident displaced by flooding, Pritzker stated in a news release.
Anyone interested in volunteering to sandbag in McClure can call 573-270-4680.