News crews document Grafton flooding

(Originally published in the Telegraph on 6/23/2008)

GRAFTON - The area's worst flood since 1993 brought national media attention to Grafton, where a four-man CNN crew waded waist-high Monday to provide coverage of the rising Mississippi River.

Meteorologist Reynolds Wolf, producer Aaron Cooper, videographer Emmanuel Tambakakis and driver Michael Humphrey from the CNN Gulf Coast Bureau arrived in Grafton early Monday morning to shoot live footage from a submerged portion of Main Street. By Monday afternoon, the Mississippi at Grafton had risen to 29 feet 3 inches.

Main Street (which is what Illinois Route 100 is designated through the city) was submerged from its intersection with Illinois Route 3 to the west edge of town, with a small exception of the stretch of road between Mulberry Street and Tara Point Drive.

Grafton Police Chief Rob Hedger said he does not expect to close any more roads. Vine Street, which intersects with Route 100 one block east of Route 3, would require flood levels to reach 32 feet 1 inch to be closed, he said.

As of 2 p.m. Monday, several one-lane-wide patches of water also covered the eastbound lanes of the River Road between Grafton and Alton.

The natural disaster left Wolf awestruck.

"What an awful thing to see," Wolf said. "It's amazing but awful. You can't help be borne away with the power of nature."

Tambakakis, who covered Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2005, found the scene a tad eerie.

"It's really wild, you know, because it's so peaceful," he said.

The "weird contrast" of the serene conditions - sun shining and birds chirping - and the flood's negative impact on people's lives "messes with you a little bit," Tambakakis said.

Many Grafton residents vacated their houses, apartments, restaurants and shops in recent days. Businesses such as Ready's Fish Market, Piasa Winery and the Loading Dock have incurred several feet of flooding, which will require hours of cleaning up mud and debris after the floodwaters subside.

Although the Rotten Apple restaurant has not suffered water damage, manager Jared Gardner closed the bar until further notice, because of the lack of road access for customers and delivery trucks.

"We finally get good weather, and we're not able to be open," he said.

Gardner, an Alton resident, said he felt "pretty lucky as far as not being in the flood plain," but he sympathized with employees out of work because of the closure.

Grafton Harbor remains open, but the marina has lost the majority of its business, said employee Nathan Rucker.

"Hardly anybody comes out," he said, noting the flood covered ramps needed to launch large boats into the river. Recreational boating currently is banned on the Mississippi between Iowa and St. Louis.

"Everybody has just stopped," said Sharon Harrison, owner of Harrison's Antiques. "It's just a shame for the people of Grafton."

Her store is still open, and her house is untouched by floodwater, but all the closed roads still "make it hard to get around," Harrison said.

The Mississippi is expected to continue rising slowly until Wednesday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers forecasts the river to crest at 30 feet, Hedger said.

Crest forecasts have fluctuated as of late. The Corps of Engineers initially expected the Mississippi to reach 31 or 32 feet, but new developments, such as levee breaks in the Winfield, Mo., area, may have lessened flooding in Grafton.

Hedger said the corps' Web site listed 29.5 feet as the expected crest when Grafton City Hall opened Monday, but the predictions climbed back to 30 feet by the afternoon.

This early summer flood, while costly and troublesome, failed to shock Grafton residents.

"Nobody's surprised," said Dan DeSherlia, owner of a banquet hall on Water Street. "It's Grafton, you know. If you don't want to deal with a flood, don't live in Grafton."

Hedger praised the city's preparedness.

"So far, everything is going as well as could be expected," he said.

City workers set up road detours and ensured residents' water, natural gas, telephone and other services would stay intact during the flood.

Water surrounded Edward Amburg's house at the corner of Oak and Water streets, but his 17-year-old granddaughter, Tommi Bell, did not fret.

"It's kind of exciting," she said. "This is my first flood."

Amburg added dirt to elevate his property in past years, preventing flooding in his house and shed.

This week's forecast bodes well for flood victims. A warm front approaching the St. Louis region from the southwest could bring light rain to the area, but "nothing widespread enough to affect the flooding" in Grafton, Alton and other towns dotting the Mississippi River, said Ben Miller, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

"The brunt of the precipitation will be to the west and north," he said.