Iowa Guardmembers work on a sandbag levee in Ottumwa. (ING photo) Portions of southeast Iowa are bracing for record flooding along the Mississippi River.

This morning, a levee breach on the Illinois side of the river forced the closure of the Great River Bridge, which connects Burlington to Illinois via Highway 34.

Burlington Mayor Bill Ell says many downtown buildings are taking on water in basements and the river is now flooding the newly renovated Memorial Auditorium. "It washed some sandbags out of the east side of the auditorium, we got water in that and could not pump it out fast enough," Ell said. "So, we have abandoned that battle."

Ell says the main concern now is with the wastewater treatment plant, which he believes will be safe. He says the plant is open, but is dumping sewage directly into the Mississippi River.

"It’s not a pleasant thing, but there isn’t anything we can do about it. We’re pumping down there to preserve the plant," Ell said. The Mayor says residents and business owners in Burlington know that things could be worse.

Ell says the flooding in Burlington won’t be near as bad as in the nearby small towns of Oakville and Columbus Junction.

In Keokuk, Mayor David Gudgel says the river is expected to crest early Thursday morning. "To say that we’ve got it handled would be incorrect, we’re doing the best we can, and we’re working around the clock right now," Gudgel says. The predicted crest is 28.4 feet, compared to the 27.6 level the river hit in 1993.

Rising river levels are endangering the Highway 136 bridge connecting Keokuk to Hamilton, Illinois. The bridge is down to one lane of traffic. Gudgel says crews are working to protect the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

"Time is short right now. The next 24 to 48 hours are going to be really, really critical for us," Gudgel said. He says homes in Keokuk won’t be evacuated.

"Keokuk is fortunate in that our residential population will not be physically impacted," Gudgel said. Several hundred members of the National Guard are helping with the sandbagging efforts in both Burlington and Keokuk.