Raising the Levees

Race Between the Water and the Workmen at Hannibal

Hannibal, Mo., May 16, 1888

At 6:00 o’clock p.m. the river was twenty-one feet, and four inches higher than in 1881 when the levee broke, and still rising. All lower part of the city is submerged and business practically suspended. The Hannibal and St. Joe shops, the lumber-yard, the planning mills, and all the business houses and homes on Front Street are inundated, and number of families have been compelled to abandon their homes. The Sny Levee, which protects some 200,000 acres of the richest land in Illinois, is expected to break near this point at any moment and flood the entire county. In many places the water was from four to six inches above the original levee, and hundreds of men are engaged in putting up dirt, rock, brush, and sacks of sand to prevent it from washing over. The farmers are hastily removing their stock and effects to places of safety and preparing for the worst. The trains on Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway and on the St. Louis, Keokuk & Northwestern have been abandoned on account of their tracks being submerged.

Men are working night and day to protect the levee, but about all hopes are given up. Should the levee break—of which there is little doubt—the loss and destruction will be incalculable. The river is now four inches higher than it has been since 1881, with the probability of a rise of at least six inches more.

Last a night a report was circulated that the levee had broken, which created the wildest excitement. Men, women, and children are running hither and thither, concerned about the safety of the hundreds of families that would have been in the greatest danger of being swept away. Happily the report is false, but is liable to be true at any hour.

Ruin Along the Valley

The Sny Levee Gives Way, Causing Much Loss

Miles of Country Deluged, Railroads Abandoned, Many Cattle Drowned, and Houses Wrecked.

Louisiana, Mo., May 17, 1888

The flood continues with rains to make the situation more disagreeable. Other breaks occurred last night in the Sny Levee, one at a point a mile above the city and two at points near Hannibal, spreading ruin and consternation over the entire Sny bottom. All the inhabitants of that once beautiful and fertile valley will now be forced to fleas the flood will cover the entire surface. The Mississippi River here is now five inches higher than the floods of 1881 and is still rising. The station of the St. Louis, Keokuk, and Northwestern Railroad, near the wharf in this city, is weighted down with iron rails to prevent its floating away. The track of the same road is so deep under water that no more trains will attempt to go through it until a fall in the river. The situation to the farmers of the Sny bottom is extremely gloomy. The prediction is freely made that the entire levee will wash away; in that event the Government will be called upon for aid. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad from this city across the Sny Vally to Quincy has been abandoned. The Chicago and Alton Railroad Company has a construction train and a large force of men constantly at work on its embankment across the bottom and at the Sny bridge. It seems impossible to save the roadbed and bridge, but if human efforts can accomplish it the plucky management will do it.

Hannibal MO., May 17, 1888

At 4:15 o’clock this morning a break occurred in the Sny levee at a point about two miles below the Hannibal bridge and this was followed at 6:45 o’clock by a larger and more serious one above the bridge a short distance. Whistles were blown as danger signals and the wildest excitement prevailed in this city as well as among the few farmers who had stubbornly remained in the bottoms. The 200 men who had been engaged all night in the work of stopping leaks and placing bags of sand on top of the levee to keep the river back as long as possible, attempted to close the breaks, but without success. The roar of the turbulent waters was terrific and filled all hearts with terror. Many persons viewed the work of devastation and ruin from the Lover’s Leap, a very high cliff in this city, from which a view of the entire bottoms and encroaching water was to be had. The more sensible farmers had removed all their live stock from the bottoms to the bluffs, six miles distant, when the first apprehension over the levee’s condition was felt, but not a few remained until the moment of the calamity; consequently they sustained serious losses. Hogs, cows, and horses could be seen swimming in the flood until they came in contact with some obstacle upon which their bodies would be mangled.

The smaller houses in the bottoms are wrecked. As yet no loss of human life is reported. The territory now covered with water is 45 miles long and 6 miles wide, with 50,000 acres under cultivation. The depth of the water is all the way from 10 to 20 feet. The river is receding rapidly. The farmers state that if the ground gets in favorable condition by the middle of June they can raise late corn. This is the first break since 1881, and the farmers had begun to rely upon the strength of the levee. The loss at this writing is incalculable. The damage to railroad property will be great. No trains are running on the “Q” or long line through this city.

Note: Sly levee originally extended from the bluffs below Quincy, Illinois, to Hamburg Bay, and protected an area of about 124,500 acres. It was originally constructed with a cross section similar to the Warsaw to Quincy Levee.