Amy and I have watched closely this week as the Mississippi River continues its rampage down through the midwest, heading Saturday towards crests in Alton, Illinois, the city I called home for 11 years and where we were married in 1979.
The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers came together just above Alton. The Illinois River emptied into the Mississippi just 20 miles north. When the floodwaters rise there, it can mean an ocean of water stretching as far as the eye can see.
We piled sandbags many times along the banks of that river in Hardin, Grafton and Alton. I often manned rescue boats as we cruised through streets turned into rivers, helping rescue trapped citizens of those river towns.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which built a series of locks and dams along the river with the claim it would help ease flooding but which actually increased the number of them, calls floods like the ones we see this week "500-year-events."
In the 11 years I lived along that river, we went through three "500 year events" and five "100-year floods." At the very least, the Corps of Engineers needs to rethink its rating system for Old Man River and its pattern of floods.
Our home in Alton sat well above the river, on a bluff overlooking that river. We learned that height is a good defense against floods. Maybe that’s why our home in Floyd County sits at 2500 feet, 500 feed above Sandy Flats Road. If floodwaters reach our house, we’re bulding an ark.