Current crest expected to reach 23 feet.

All five of Hannibal's floodgates will be set on Friday ahead of an anticipated flood crest of just over 22 feet next week.

"Some people will think it's awfully early (to set the gates days ahead of the forecasted crest), but the way I have seen it jump up a foot at a time, what is to say it would not jump a foot or two over the weekend and I could be in trouble," said John Hark, emergency management director for Hannibal. "As I've always said if I'm going to error it's going to be on the side of safety, so if we are setting a little early so be it. It's not going to hurt anything anyway."

Hark has been keeping a watchful eye on the river level.

"I started watching this thing when it got to 14 feet. Then it jumped to 16 (feet) and it just kept jumping," he said. "In 98 hours it jumped about 5 feet."

The gates on Hill and Center streets are installed when the Mississippi River is projected to reach 20.5 feet. The remaining three gates are put in when the forecast is for the river to reach 21.5 feet or more. As of Friday morning a crest of 23 feet was forecast to occur on Wednesday, March 20. Moderate flooding begins in Hannibal at 22 feet.

When it became apparent the floodgates would have to be set Hark contacted the riverfront renovation project's general contractor, Bleigh Construction.

"They were very pleased to know the information so they could get all their stuff off the riverfront. They have everything moved out," he said.

Andy Dorian, director of the Hannibal Parks and Recreation Department, said as of right now no construction will be going on while the floodgates are in.

"I think they (gates) will be in for several days," Hark said. "The river is going to crest, then it's going to drop a little bit and then come back again to 21-plus feet. It's going to do a lot of yo-yoing, up and down."

Hark is not optimistic the Mississippi River will drop back within its banks anytime soon.

"We haven't even gotten the snowmelt from up north yet," he said. "To me this is just the beginning of the flood season. It's a little early for it in fact. I think it's going to be a long flood season this year."

Dorian said it's anyone's guess what the high water will do to the riverfront project's construction schedule.

"I would anticipate the completion date to be pushed back some due to the brutal winter and now earlier high water. It will really depend on how long the gates are in and what the rest of the season brings," he said. "At this point we just watch the river gauges and wait."

The last time the floodgates were needed was last fall with Hannibal experienced an unusual October flood. The gates were in for three weeks before being pulled on Oct. 29 following a crest of 24.9 feet earlier in the month.



danny.henley@courierpost.com