Hannibal, Mo., not flooded but still reeling

ByABC News
June 25, 2008, 10:36 PM

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- From a tree-lined bluff high above the Mississippi River, the floodwaters look serene, a gift from God in this deeply religious region, where locals still greet visitors with "sir" and "ma'am."

But from a levee a short drop away, it's clear the fast-running, 29-foot-high current would crush trains, buildings and Steve Terry's 120-foot Mark Twain Riverboat as if they were children's toys.

Terry, the 48-year-old owner of the popular tourist attraction and a U.S. Coast Guard-certified captain, saw steady 3% to 5% annual sales growth until the flood struck earlier this month.

Terry's riverboat and several barges have been anchored in the middle of the river for almost two weeks. He's losing thousands of dollars a day in profits, and he had to let go students who work for him in the summer. The local boy isn't worried, though. "The mighty Mississippi River is a little mightier now, but we'll survive," Terry says. "Hannibal is open for business."

The flooding in the Midwest has killed 24 people, caused billions of dollars in damage and devastated hundreds of farms and businesses. But the rising waters have done relatively little harm to Hannibal, a folksy town of 18,000 where 19th-century author Mark Twain spent much of his childhood.

An earthen levee and concrete floodwall have held back the waters from Hannibal's historic downtown district. Only two businesses the riverboat company and Bubba's, a popular jambalaya restaurant right on the riverbank have temporarily closed.

Hannibal, though, is struggling to survive the financial impact from the disaster. News media reports of surging waters have spooked tourists, who've canceled nearly half of the town's 800 hotel reservations.

On a typical summer day, downtown Hannibal is full of visitors and locals enjoying the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, arts and music festivals, the Mark Twain cave and other attractions. Each year, nearly a half-million tourists flock to Hannibal, trademarked as America's Hometown.