Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Levee Break Poses Damage Threat

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Levee Break Poses Damage Threat

Article excerpt

The depth-sounding device on a St. Charles County Emergency Management motorboat signaled a constant reading of 16 feet while cruising down the relatively smooth-surfaced main channel of the Missouri River this week.

But as Gary Schuchardt, director of the agency, eased the boat toward a 200-foot break in a levee at Wiedey Road's nearest point to the river, the water turned into a maelstrom, and the digits on the depth sounder face went wild, registering 40 feet, then 47 and bouncing to 57 feet.

The force of the river gushing through the levee break had suctioned sand from the bottom and gouged a giant hole, Schuchardt explained. Sand from the hole would be carried by surging river water miles inland, across Wiedey Road, Suntan Beach at Highway H, past Marais Temps Clair and, finally, through Portage Road to the lower Mississippi River.

This was one of the county's biggest levee breaks from the spring flooding. Repairs have yet to start because the Missouri River is still out of its banks and floodwaters cover the fields around the levees. The river is, in fact, on the rise again. It is expected to hit 28.5 feet Saturday. That's 3.5 feet above flood stage.

The immediate danger of the water pouring through the gap is Highway H, where only a week earlier ripped-out sections of the road had been filled with rock to provide land access to Portage des Sioux.

As the boat idled over submerged trees and debris inside the levee break, Schuchardt pointed out an earth-moving project under way to hold back the water from Highway H.

Graders were moving dirt in what Schuchardt called "an emergency protective measure," like big-scale sandbagging. The fill was being pushed into a narrow ridge extending from Wiedey Road to a ring levee that had been built after the flood of 1986 and located a few feet downstream from the wide gap in the main levee.

"The water is within a foot of Highway H," Schuchardt said. The temporary earthen structure might make the difference between the road remaining relatively dry or being washed out again.

Manning the graders and dump trucks were members of the Consolidated North County Levee District, Schuchardt said. …

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