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Ongoing Midwest Flooding Threatens Mississippi River Levees

As the Mississippi River continues to rise through Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, federal officials fear many of the existing levees will fail, stressing the region's flood prevention system. A civil engineer discusses the science of levees.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    We begin with the latest on the floods in the Midwest, where there are new fears tonight about high water heading south.

    The Mississippi River is rising, and fast, as floodwaters from swollen tributaries in the Upper Midwest dump into the big river.

    And now, as the waters continue to surge, there is an added concern: a system of levees that holds back the Mississippi in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri is in danger of being overtopped.

    Millions of sandbags are being placed on the levees in hopes of repelling the river. But the Army Corps of Engineers has said there is no way to predict whether the levees will hold.

    The Illinois levee, which broke today, forced the closure of the Great River Bridge, which spans the Mississippi between Gulfport, Illinois, and Burlington, Iowa. The river will crest there today at 26 feet.

    Missouri is now bracing for record flooding as the deluge flows down river. Sandbagging crews were out in force. Hannibal, Missouri, saw its first flooding today. The worst is not expected there until later this week.

    In parts of Iowa, the flooding continues. Some residents can't beat back the tide.

  • FLOOD VICTIM:

    You've got to let it go, because we can't keep fighting it up.

  • FLOOD VICTIM:

    It's up. We gave up. Mother Nature wins.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And the floodwaters coursing throughout the stricken region carry a toxic stew of garbage, chemicals, fertilizers, manure and fuel. An official in Iowa City warned citizens to beware.

  • MAYOR REGENIA BAILEY, Iowa City, Iowa:

    The floodwaters are full of hazards themselves. The water, people should take precautions about being in floodwater. That's very important. If they have open cut or open skin, they should make sure that they have a current tetanus booster. That's very important, as well, if they're in floodwaters.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There is also enormous damage, both to property and to the region's agriculture industry. Corn and soybean farmers are just now beginning to take stock of their fields and determine whether their crops are salvageable.