Group says cost of Mississippi River flood already at more than $2 billion — and it’s going up as water goes down

Published 4:40 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Repairs and cleanup following the prolonged flooding along the Mississippi River will cost more than $2 billion, an advocacy group for river communities said Tuesday.

Heavier than normal snow melt in the late winter and frequent and heavy rains through the spring led to flooding that approached record levels in several towns from Iowa to Louisiana. Equally troubling has been how long the high water has stuck around. Even now, the river remains well above flood stage throughout much of the Mississippi River corridor.

Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, said the damage along the Mississippi River was estimated at nearly $2 billion by the end of March, even before several additional rounds of major flooding. He expects the number to rise but said it’s too early for a more accurate estimate.

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The Mississippi has been above flood stage at some southern towns for more than 200 days. Mayors who spoke during a conference call with the media Tuesday said the length of the flood has created unusual trouble.

Some places are dealing with sinkholes due to water soaking the ground, or seepage through saturated levees. In Greenville, Mississippi, Mayor Errick Simmons said sewer pump failures have been particularly damaging in the town’s poorest areas.

“Some folks can’t flush their commodes,” Simmons said. He expects the flood fight to last several more months.

One of the hardest-hit towns was Davenport, Iowa, where raging water surged into downtown after a barrier failed on April 30, swamping several buildings and washing away vehicles.

Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch said that by the time the barrier gave way, it had already been holding back floodwater for up to 80 days.

“The unprecedented length of the flood, coupled with the depth, has definitely had a serious impact,” Klipsch said.

The flood was the second-worst on record in the neighboring Illinois towns of Grafton and Alton, north of St. Louis. Grafton Mayor Rick Eberlin said the popular shops on the tourist town’s Main Street have been closed for weeks and aren’t expected to reopen until mid-July.

Alton Mayor Brant Walker said the flood was so bad in his town that the river grew to 7 miles (11 kilometers) wide. An estimated 500 to 700 workers have been idled in Alton due to flooding, including those employed by a casino that had to temporarily shut down.

“We’re hoping to get this flood behind us and get everybody back to work because it’s been absolutely devastating,” Walker said.

The flood has damaged around 30 levees along the Mississippi River, said Jared Gartman of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Gartman said the cost of the damage has not yet been determined.