As members of the Hannibal Street Department began the process of installing the first of five flood gates late Monday morning, a small crowd gathered not far away to watch.

As members of the Hannibal Street Department began the process of installing the first of five flood gates late Monday morning, a small crowd gathered not far away to watch.

“My family is from Arizona where they don’t have water, so this is a treat,” said a woman.

Following the installation of the Hill Street flood gate, the group of onlookers broke into a round of applause.

It had been hoped on Friday that at the most only two of the gates would have to be installed Monday, but that changed over the weekend.

“Last night (Sunday) they revised it again up above the 21-foot mark,” said John Hark, emergency management director for the city of Hannibal. “Once it goes beyond there, we go for it all (installation of all five flood gates) and that’s what we’re doing.

“This river can do a lot strange things, so consequently we’re locking it down tight so the National Tom Sawyer’s Day celebration can go on as planned and everybody will be safe and the river can do whatever it desires.”

When a crest prediction of 20.5 feet or more is forecast, the gates on Hill and Center streets go in. The remaining three gates - two on Broadway and one on South Main - are placed when the crest is forecast at 21.5 or more.

The last thing Hark wanted to do was to gamble that the forecasted crest might be revised downward as happened Friday.

“I can’t get into this celebration anticipating 50,000 plus people in this community trying to enjoy themselves and I’m trying to get through them with flood gates and equipment,” he said. “It’s close enough to call and I believe we’re going to see better than what’s being predicted right now, so I’m setting them all.”

Hark’s hunch that the river would go higher will apparently be proved accurate. According to the National Weather Service’s noon forecast Monday, the river will reach 21.5 feet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 2. But it won’t stop there. It’s now expected to reach 25.7 feet at 7 a.m. Wednesday, July 9. If that crest is reached it would be the sixth highest in recorded history in Hannibal. Ironically, it would surpass a crest of 25.53 set on June 1, 2013. But that isn’t the top crest seen in 2013. That came on April 21 when the river topped out at 27.63 – the No. 4 crest all time. The record crest was 31.80 feet reached on July 15, 1993.

“Any rain just immediately north of us, a 2- or 3-inch rain throughout northern Marion County or Lewis County or something like that would dump a lot of water just north of us and would come on us rapidly. Any release from Red Rock or Saylorville up in Iowa puts water on me in 24 to 36 hours,” said Hark.

Now that the flood gates are in, they wouldn’t be taken out until after National Tom Sawyer’s Days, even if the Mississippi River suddenly dropped.

“I will leave them in now until it gets below the 20-foot mark and it definitely shows signs it’s draining out and we’ve got nothing coming in behind it from the north,” said Hark.

Hannibal’s flood gates were in place a year ago on July 4, when the river stood at 21.88 feet.

Flood preparations were underway Monday. The Mark Twain Riverboat was being relocated to its high-water docking point a bit further up the river.

The Queen of the Mississippi Riverboat is scheduled to make its first appearance of the summer season in Hannibal on Sunday, July 6. As of Monday afternoon Gail Bryant, director of the Hannibal Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she had not heard anything from the American Cruise Line, the company that owns the paddlewheeler, regarding any revisions to its plans.

With the flood gates in, many who enjoy taking their boats out on the river will be impacted. However, Hark believes anyone with knowledge of the river wouldn’t want to get out at this point.

“Any boater that knows the river has got to know that river is not safe. There’s a lot of debris in there,” he said. “It’s always great to watch the Fourth of July fireworks from the river, but the last thing I’d want to be is in that river at night when I can’t see what’s going on and it’s rising.”