By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- John Hark, director of the Hannibal-Marion County Emergency Management Agency, sounded relieved on Wednesday night.
The Hannibal area had escaped much of the wrath of a spring storm that blew over several tractor trailers on rural roadways.
"When it came, it came hard and fast," Hark said.
Hark's tune changed a bit on Thursday morning after more overnight rains pushed Bear Creek to its limits.
"This is just the beginning of it, I'm afraid," Hark said. "It wasn't looking good from 3 o'clock on."
Hark said no homes in the area had been flooded yet. He said members of the Hannibal Police Department canvassed a neighborhood close to the creek and advised people to move their vehicles.
Hark said Wednesday night he had only heard of damage to one building on a farm close to West Ely, and he had heard a report of damage to one building in Palmyra.
He spent most of his evening checking for local flooding. He was thankful that he didn't find any.
"We can still handle a lot of water," Hark said.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature gave the city a lot more water, which led to the rise in Bear Creek. Hark expects the creek level to fall once water starts to flow into the Mississippi. That relief, he said, would be short-lived since the Mississippi is expected to continue to rise over the next few days.
Hark said the tornado sirens were activated once a tornado warning was issued for the area. He said the county's "Code Red" electronic alert system also was put into use.
City officials announced earlier Wednesday that it planned to install all five of its floodgates in the downtown area starting at 1 p.m. Thursday. The riverfront area east of the floodwall was closed to traffic starting at midnight.
Hark said this is the first time Hannibal workers have had to install the floodgates since 2011. He said last year was the first time since the gates were built following flooding in 1993 that the city went an entire year without having to install the floodgates.
As of late Wednesday night, the Mississippi River was at 16.55 feet, just over the 16-foot flood stage. By 8 a.m. Thursday morning, the river had risen more than 2 feet to 18.66 feet. The river levels are expected to spike over the next few days. The National Weather Service expects the river to crest at 26.5 feet at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Hark said the floodgates would be up until the river dips below the 18-foot mark.
About 30 miles to the south, Louisiana, Mo., has no flood wall. The downtown is far enough from the river that it is in no danger, but a flood reaching 8 to 10 feet above flood stage would push muddy river water over Highway 79 -- the main north-south highway through town -- and damage a few homes and businesses, City Administrator Bob Jenne said.
"We do have sand and all the bags already stockpiled in the event we need them," Jenne said. "Right now, it's wait and see."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.