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Water level climbing in flood-weary Midwest

Flooding from rainstorms blamed for at least 16 deaths threatened to worsen Friday, with many Midwestern rivers over their banks for more than a day already and the water level climbing.
Image: A new levee holds back the floodwaters in Vally Park, Missouri.
A levee holds back floodwaters of the Meramec River in Valley Park, Mo., on Thursday. Many residents have fled because Saturday's projected 40-foot-crest would reach within 3 feet of barrier's top.Tom Gannam / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Flooding from rainstorms blamed for at least 16 deaths threatened to worsen Friday, with many Midwestern rivers over their banks for more than a day already and the water level climbing.

To the north, a fresh snowstorm blew into the Chicago area, prompting authorities to cancel flights protectively. Forecasters said the storm could leave as much as 9 inches of heavy snow in the region.

A blizzard warning remained in effect in northern Maine, where fierce winds had already scattered a foot or more of snow.

“Even though it was spring yesterday, we still have winter on our doorstep,” spokeswoman Ginny Joles of Maine Public Service Co., northern Maine’s major electric company, said Friday.

Swelling rivers could spell weekend woes
Thursday, the first day of spring, brought much-needed sunshine to some flooded communities, but many swelling rivers were not expected to crest until the weekend in Arkansas, Missouri, southern Illinois, southern Indiana and Kentucky.

The worst flooding happened in smaller rivers across the nation’s midsection. Major channels such as the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers saw only minor flooding.

In Fenton, a St. Louis suburb, Jeff Rogles joined dozens of volunteers to fill sandbags and pile them against downtown businesses near the fast-rising Meramec River, which was expected to reach more than 20 feet above flood stage in some spots.

“I think we have enough volunteers out here to stave off disaster,” said Rogles, 27, who joined the effort because he remembered the devastating Great Flood of 1993.

Parts of Missouri got a foot of rain over a 36-hour period this week, causing widespread flash flooding and swelling many rivers. Five deaths have been confirmed in Missouri and hundreds of people were forced from their homes. Many families will return to find their property badly damaged or destroyed.

Valley Park is protected by a flood levee completed in 2005, but the projected 40-foot-crest there on Saturday would reach within three feet of the top of the levee. As a result, many homeowners, merchants and even schools were moving to higher ground.

Door-to-door evacuations
Police in Pacific, Mo., went door-to-door evacuating about 50 homes in low-lying areas.

In southwest Indiana, Todd Ferguson has spent most of the week building a sandbag wall around his sister-in-law’s Evansville home. Pigeon Creek normally flows about 200 yards from Valerie Ferguson’s house, but the water had crept to within 10 feet and was not expected to crest until Sunday.

In 2006, the Fergusons piled more than 1,000 sandbags around their home and still sustained about $1,000 in damage. This time, they don’t have help from Valerie’s husband, Tim, who is serving in Iraq with the Indiana National Guard.

“We won two years ago, but I don’t know if we’re going to win this one,” Todd Ferguson said. “Only time will tell, I guess.”

In Batesville, Ark., antique mall operator Marcia Weaver stood along the banks of the Spring River and watched as pieces of lives were washed away.

“There were large pieces of furniture, dressers, picnic tables from the parks. I saw a four-wheeler going down. Lots of canoes and kayaks that didn’t have anybody in them,” she said.

‘Trying to salvage what we can’
In the tiny community of Edgewater, Ohio, relatives helped Judy Lambert move out of her double-wide mobile home. Her detached garage had a foot of water in it from the flooding Great Miami River.

“We’re getting all the valuables out and trying to salvage what we can,” said Lambert’s son, Sean, 34. The flood is “knocking at the back door.”

Levee breaches in southeast Missouri forced hundreds of people from their homes and left many major roadways impassable.

In Eureka, Mo., in St. Louis County, Patrick Butler was busy building a wall of sandbags wrapped in plastic he hoped would keep floodwaters out of a downtown building he rents to a screen-printing shop. He said residents are nervous but well-acquainted with flooding in the low-lying Meramec River town.

“I think we’ll have to just have a fishing tournament out in the street,” he joked.

At least 2 people still missing
At least 16 deaths have been linked to the weather over the past few days, and at least two people were missing.

Searchers in Texas recovered a body Thursday in waist-deep water that matched the description of a teenager who was washed down a drainage pipe, but hadn’t confirmed it was him. Two people were missing Thursday in Arkansas after their vehicles were swept away by rushing water Tuesday.

Government forecasters warned that some flooding could continue in the coming days because of record rainfall and melting snow packs across much of the Midwest and Northeast.