Upper Miss Towns Prepare For ‘Two-Front Fight’

The entire Upper Mississippi River was in either moderate or minor flood states on April 2. The National Weather Service (NWS) had earlier issued a flood warning for the Mississippi River in two Minnesota counties, Aitken and Crow Wing, and said it expects river levels to keep rising.

NWS gauges showed moderate flooding at 32 locations, and minor flooding at 62 locations. Five gauges near the Quad Cities showed moderate flooding.

In addition, the Wild Rice River, a Mississippi River tributary, was at 10 feet above flood stage on April 2, and was projected to stay in moderate flood state through April 9, with a storm system dropping more snow and rain on the area, although total precipitation volumes were forecast to be light.

The Illinois River was experiencing minor flooding in its lower reaches.

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The latest forecasts from the National Weather Service show the Missouri River holding steady or slightly declining through from Sioux City, Iowa, to Rulo, Neb., through April 22.

River Mayors Prepare

Dozens of mayors from 10 states who belong  to the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI) gathered on a March 19 virtual “situation room”  call with federal agencies and partners to coordinate, organize, and elevate capacities in response to the 2020 spring flood season, while also addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayors were quick to reassure listeners that the capacity exists to respond to the pending storm impacts expected throughout the Mississippi River corridor this spring. With the first sizable storm passing through the region in the last week of March, mayors have been working to gather additional capacity while at the same time limiting the spread of COVID-19.

“Our message to all our residents first and foremost is that we will respond to those in need of assistance from disaster impacts this spring,” emphasized Sharon Weston Broome, mayor of Baton Rouge and co-chair of MRCTI. “We are working to manage a fight on two fronts: limiting contagion and addressing the effects of other disasters such as tornadoes, flooding and storms.”

“Our mayors have been in close communication and coordination with FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, NOAA, and USGS. The good news is all our federal partners are ready to deliver as much mission critical response as we would typically rely on even during this pandemic,” said Bob Gallagher, mayor of Bettendorf, Iowa and another co-chair of MRCTI. 

Keeping Responders, Residents Safe

All levels of government are mustering beyond traditional capabilities to manage contagion as well as other disturbances typical of this season. This requires instituting additional steps and protocols to keep personnel, volunteers, and residents safe from heightened risk of contagion while officials prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters expected through the region over the next couple of months.

“We are working closely with our state emergency management agencies, public health departments, FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, and the Red Cross to make sure our first responder teams have the personal protective gear they need and we can limit exposure to residents we interact with that may need assistance. Also, our smaller towns depend on volunteers for disaster response and thus we are developing protocols to limit contagion,” said Mayor Rick Eberlin of Grafton, Ill.

Not Last Year, But Still …

As mayors said on March 5 from Washington, D.C., where they met with elected officials and others, the flood risk for the corridor is not as high this year as it was this time in 2019, but the likelihood of impacts remains and will be present until the summer, following the usual pattern.

Mayors say they will work to keep their needs front and center on the national priority list. “Here in some of the corridor’s major metropolitan areas, as well as our more rural surroundings, the need for additional resources for us to fight on both fronts is not likely to ebb soon, so we have to keep pushing for what is needed on the ground,” said Mayor Belinda Constant of Gretna, La. “Since 2019 presented us with months of flooding—the longest flood in U.S. history—we’ve become better equipped to deal with events over a sustained period.”