Except for designated areas, public asked to stay off flood levee

The city of Hannibal has requested that members of the Missouri National Guard be sent to help with sandbagging efforts on the downtown flood levee.

Gov. Mike Parson activated the national guard Monday to assist communities hard-hit last week by severe weather and cities that have been dealing with flooding much of the spring.

John Hark, Hannibal's emergency management director, has requested 50 guardsmen be sent to Hannibal to help finish sandbagging a two-block portion of the levee's northern end.

City forces began putting in concrete barriers and sandbags in that area earlier this month, but had to cease working before the task was completed.

"It got so wet when we were doing this job we had to put a stop to it," John Hark said.

Heavy equipment cannot be used to haul sandbags to the top of the levee, because the ground is still very saturated in that area. John Hark envisions the guardsmen passing the sandbags from person-to-person, up the levee where they will be put in place.

The governor said that units will be deployed to Chariton County where guardsmen will help with sandbagging to reinforce a stressed levee near Brunswick.

While John Hark says Hannibal's downtown flood levee is "holding up well," he added there are some "trouble spots" that must be watched closely.

"It's not actually in the levee, but out here in the street," he said, referring to a spot in a parking area where North Street comes to an end. "It is seepage coming under the levee, which is normal."

Concrete barriers and sandbags have been utilized to contain the North Street seepage area, and to also maintain the integrity of the paved area.

Mayor James Hark said the amount of time that water has been against the flood levee is a growing concern.

"It is becoming saturated as any flood levee would be. When you have saturation you run the risk of seepage. With that we're looking at restricting pedestrian traffic in the grassy areas of the floodwall. We can't have people destroying the sod of the flood levee," he said.

Consideration is being given to fencing off all of the flood levee except the two designated viewing areas which are paved.

"If we get to the point where we fence it and put signs up saying 'Do not get in this area' and we find people in those areas, they will be subject to arrest," James Hark said. "That seems a little harsh, but we can't have people damaging the floodwall and causing its failure for no better reason than to see the water."

John Hark, who met Tuesday morning with representatives of the State Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said he is personally checking the levee every morning, afternoon and evening to see if there have been any changes that might require countermeasures.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service was predicting a crest of 29.5 feet early on Saturday, June 1. If that crest occurs it will be the high-water mark of 2019 in Hannibal. Thus far the highest crest has been 28.25 on May 3.

danny.henley@courierpost.com