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Raging Mississippi River Keeps Boat Crews Busy

June 20, 2014

By the Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)

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All eyes are now on the largest drainage system in North America.

The Mississippi River is projected to hit major flood stage in downtown St. Paul this weekend and then crest Thursday at nearly 20 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

The river continues to swell after a record-breaking deluge yesterday dropped more than 4 inches of rain at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport -- the most ever recorded for a day in June.

Shortly after noon Friday, the Mississippi River hit nearly 13.5 feet, less than a foot shy of minor flood stage in St. Paul. Major flood stage kicks in at 17 feet, a level the river is expected to pass sometime Sunday.

It`s not making life on the river easy.

"It`s a struggle, real hard struggle," said Joe Bebeau, 47, an engineer on the 61-foot-long towboat Patrick Gannaway. "A lot of trees are coming out of the Minnesota (River), and we`re fighting through all that."

Debris like 6-foot-deep logjams constantly threaten to lock up rudders.

Boats keep an eye on each other, helping to break up flotillas of debris. But it`s a constant battle against a river that likely will only get more violent as waters continue to rise.

"We`re out here all the time," said Bebeau, who started his career on the river as a teenager 29 years ago. "We`re just trying to keep the crews safe."

The boat is running 24 hours a day moving cargo and ships up and down a river flowing twice as fast as it did in late May.

Thursday`s blitz of rain brought the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport`s total to 10.64 inches for the month, making this the second-wettest June so far on record -- behind the 11.67 inches that fell in June 1874.

Heavy rainfall across the entire state is contributing to its rise of the river, which acts as a watershed for the entire state.

Should the river hit 20 feet, it would be highest crest since April 2001, when the river crested twice above 23 feet.

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(c)2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

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Story image; A mudslide due to recent heavy rain threatens the University of Minnesota Medical Center Fairview Hospital complex on the West Bank in Minneapolis, Minn., Thursday, June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Richard Tsong-Taatarii)

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