Chicago Tribune

Barges stranded, levees breached and a town in danger: How the Mississippi River is dividing a community — literally — in southern Illinois

OLIVE BRANCH, Ill. - Miller City Road, the two-lane blacktop that slices across Dogtooth Bend peninsula at the southern tip of Illinois, has been pummeled by Mississippi River floodwaters for three years.

The road, a crucial artery for those who live and farm on the isolated expanse of land 375 miles and a world away from Chicago, is pockmarked by giant potholes and lined by stacks of uprooted tree limbs. Rocks reinforce the shoulder, placed there by Alexander County road crews to prevent the pavement from slipping into the muck.

Two river barges are marooned atop a muddy farm field a few feet from the road, adding an apocalyptic touch to the landscape. The silver-flecked barges have been stranded there since July, when floodwaters sucked the barges through the breach of the Len Small Levee.

The 17-mile-long levee, an earthen barrier along the Mississippi's eastern bank designed to protect Dogtooth Bend's fertile farms and smattering of homes, has sported a gaping hole since New Year's Day 2016. Water and sediment from the river has been spilling across the peninsula ever since.

"There," Adam Thomas said, pointing toward his farm field from the edge of the water near his storage shed, "is the Mississippi River, which is not supposed to be there."

The scene at Dogtooth Bend is the latest example of how the rising river and

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