Publication Date May 15, 2017

Trump country is flooding, and climate ideas are shifting

United States
A flooded home on stilts near Thebes, Ill. Photo: Erika Bolstad

The first priority was, of course, keeping everyone safe, as floodwaters got so high that city crews stationed a canoe to navigate one of the lower downtown streets earlier in May.

Reopening the riverboat casino came a close second in this Mississippi River town 25 miles north of St. Louis, between the confluence of the Illinois and Missouri rivers.

"The boat," as Mayor Brant Walker calls the brightly colored Argosy casino, contributes $4 million to an annual city budget of $31 million. Floodwaters were still pooling in the lower part of town and in the casino parking lot, but shuttles ferried gamblers from staging points on drier ground to the reopened boat in the days after the worst of the flooding.

"It's absolutely devastating, especially when you work with tight budgets we currently have," Walker said.

Add climate change to the common bouts of inundation, and towns along the Mississippi are confronting a new reality, Walker said, one that compounds the misery of previous floods. The 180-year-old town has had five flood events in the past four years, he said, and four of those have been in the top 10 flooding disasters in Alton's history.

"We're now living in a world of extremes on the Mississippi River," he said. "We just don't get normal spring rains anymore. We get huge downpours."