OMAHA, Neb. — The risk of more flooding will hound Iowa's third-largest city for at least a month as the possibility of a wet spring could see an already swollen Mississippi River pushed higher out of its banks, Davenport officials said Wednesday, a day after floodwaters broke through a temporary barrier downtown.
Meanwhile, cities downstream remain largely dry, but are preparing for a flood threat that could stretch into the summer.
Floodwaters that swamped a couple of blocks of downtown Davenport on Tuesday are not expected to get worse over the coming days, public works director Nicole Gleason said Wednesday. Even with the river set to crest later Wednesday at an estimated 22.4 feet (6.83 meters), just short of a record crest set at Davenport in 1993, it would do little to add to the floodwaters already covering the couple of blocks on the river's edge, Gleason said.
"The longer we can go without rain, the quicker the waters will recede," she said.
But she and other officials expect the river that was bloated by heavy rains and snowmelt earlier this year to remain as such as the region heads into what is typically a wet stretch of spring.
"All we can really do is wait and see," Gleason said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Gibbs confirmed there's little chance in the coming days of rainfall heavy enough to further raise the Mississippi River flood threat in eastern Iowa. He predicted only scattered showers in the area Wednesday. The service isn't warning of severe weather upstream either, he said.
Unlike cities such as Muscatine downstream, Davenport doesn't have a permanent floodwall, opting instead for an open, picturesque riverfront. Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch said at a news conference Wednesday that the city has 9 miles (14 kilometers) of riverfront, making the prospect of a floodwall to protect all of it outlandishly expensive.
"We live with this river," he said. "We want to protect it and our citizens."
Further downstream, Mississippi River levels are expected to reach rare heights in Missouri. The projected flood would be the fourth-worst ever in St. Louis, Louisiana and Clarksville, and third-worst ever in Hannibal, and officials are scrambling to get ahead of the worst of it.
The Memorial Bridge connecting Quincy, Illinois, and West Quincy, Missouri, closed Wednesday, forcing all traffic to take the only other bridge in Quincy. Officials said Champ Clark Bridge at Louisiana could also be forced to close if the water gets too high, and several roads along the river have already closed on both sides of the Mississippi.
Hannibal, Missouri — a popular tourist town — has a levee that protects the boyhood home of Mark Twain and historic 19th century downtown buildings. The latest crest prediction has the river reaching about 5 feet (1.5 meters) short of the top of the levee, but with heavy rain in the forecast most of this week and next, town leaders are taking no chances. Emergency Management Director John Hark said the town plans to add 2 feet of additional height, probably using sandbags, on top of the levee.
"We're going to have a full-fledged flood fight," Hark said. "The river's going to do what it wants to do, and we've got a lot of water coming."
The National Weather Service projects the river will reach 12 1/2 feet above flood stage in St. Louis, which would leave it lapping at the steps of the Gateway Arch grounds. Downtown rises up from the river, and a flood wall protects nearby industrial areas, so no major damage is expected. But the high water could bring a mandatory halt to river traffic, including barges.