Rising Rivers Mean More Midwest Flooding

By: CBS and Associated Press
By: CBS and Associated Press

(CBS/AP) Flood-weary Midwesterners fought Friday to save their homes and businesses from rivers spilling over their banks after rainstorms blamed for at least 16 deaths moved through the region.

Thousands of people from Arkansas through Ohio were staying in shelters or with relatives as flood waters lapped against their homes.

Major Byron Medloch of the Salvation Army said Friday that 1,000 people displaced by the Meramec River in eastern Missouri were housed in shelters. Another 1,000 were in shelters near Poplar Bluff in far southeast Missouri, where the surging Black River breached several levees.

"People are tired," Medloch said. "Tired of fighting and tired of waiting. They're just frustrated because they can't get back into their homes."

More than 70 counties in Missouri have been declared disaster areas, reports CBS News correspondent Hari Sreenivasan.

To the north, a fresh snowstorm blew through Minnesota and 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.

Jeff Craven, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said southeast Wisconsin could receive 10 to 15 inches by midnight. He also added disappointing news for residents hoping that the last week of March would bring sunshine and green grass.

"It doesn't appear to be in a big hurry to warm up," he said. "The pattern looks relatively cool through next week, so this snowpack might linger for a while."

That didn't bother Steven Williams, 53, a cook who has lived in Milwaukee for 30 years.

"I'm not surprised. It's still March," he said. "It's expected at this time of year so I just accept it."

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.

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.

Experts project major springtime floods in the Ohio and Mississippi River basins, the lower Missouri River basin into Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and New England, reports Sreenivasan.

The worst flooding happened in smaller rivers across the nation's midsection. Major channels such as the Missouri and Ohio rivers saw only minor flooding, but by Friday, even the Mighty Mississippi was rising above flood stage at some towns.

Cape Girardeau - where a foot of rain fell this week - was getting the worst of it. The river was expected to crest at 44.5 feet. Flood stage is 32 feet. A flood wall protects the historic downtown area, but a few homes in low-lying area could be jeopardized.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said he was reminded of the Great Flood of 1993 when he flew over the Cape Girardeau area on Thursday.

"When you looked to the south and the east from the airplane, in the southeast part of the state in many of the fields it looks like a vast inland sea," Kinder said. "The flooding is just so enormous."

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. 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 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."

Rivers receded Friday in Ohio, however, but several areas were still under flood warnings. About 70 state roads were closed or partly blocked by flooding; crews were trying to pump water off a major route into Columbus, according to the State Highway Patrol.

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 the body of a teenager from waist-deep water Thursday; the boy had been washed down a drainage pipe. Two people in Arkansas whose vehicles were swept away by rushing water Tuesday were still missing.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that its crews in boats and in the air had rescued 52 people and 15 pets this week from flood waters in and around Poplar Bluff, Allenville and Eureka, Mo. Forty people were trapped on Coon Island near Poplar Bluff after a levee broke on Wednesday, but were rescued by two Coast Guard helicopters sent up from New Orleans.

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.

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