Floodwaters rising after storms deluge heartland

Floodwaters rise towns rush to stack sand bags after spring storms deluge nation's midsection

Associated Press
Floodwaters rising after storms deluge heartland
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Holli McPherson, right, and other volunteers help fill sandbags inside a Grand Rapids City maintenance garage on Market Street in Grand Rapids, Mich., Friday, April 19, 2013. She and other WMEAC volunteers were planning to take part in the annual Grand River clean-up but instead helped with flood control. Volunteers plan to work through the weekend in Grand Rapids to fill sandbags as part of an effort to hold off West Michigan floodwaters. (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Chris Clark) ALL LOCAL TV OUT; LOCAL TV INTERNET OUT

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Fast-rising rivers put communities as divergent as Clarksville, Mo., and the Chicago suburbs on alert Friday, the fallout from days of heavy rain that soaked much of the Midwest.

Several Mississippi River communities in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri could see near-record flooding by this weekend, a sharp contrast to just two months ago when the river was at near-record lows. Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana were experiencing minor flooding, too.

The torrential rains that began Wednesday dumped up to 6 inches of new water on already saturated soil, and some of the worst flooding was in Illinois.

The Chicago area received up to 7 inches fell within 24 hours Wednesday night and Thursday, which created a massive sinkhole that swallowed three cars, flooded basements and kept those near rivers, streams and creeks on edge.

The Des Plaines River was sending record levels of water down through Chicago's heavily populated western suburbs and into the Illinois River to the south. As many as 1,500 residents of the northern Illinois town of Marseilles were evacuated after nine barges broke free from a tugboat on the Illinois River and damaged a levee. Evacuees included residents of a nursing home; there were no reports of injuries.

In the central Illinois town of London Mills, the swollen Spoon River topped a levee and inundated part of the community. About 250 of the town's 500 residents had to be evacuated. Police Chief Scott Keithley said some homes were half under water and abandoned cars floated away.

In Oak Brook, Ill., decomposed body was found in flooded Salt Creek. An autopsy was planned and authorities said it was too early to determine what happened to the victim.

Along the Mississippi, the flooding was pronounced but serious nonetheless.

Since the devastating flood of 1993, the government bought out thousands of homes that were once in harm's way, tore them down and replaced them with green space where development is not allowed. New and bigger levees have been built, and flood walls reinforced.

Still, some people choose to live in the flood plain, and business and industry sit along the river. High water has closed hundreds of roads and swamped hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland as planting season approaches. If it spills into sewage plants, waste could flow untreated into the river.

Clarksville, Mo., is one of the few places at the mercy of the river. The quaint community of 442 filled with century-old historic homes has no flood wall or levee. But in 2008, it purchased a flood protection system that allows for a levee to be constructed — aluminum slats filled with sand — if the river rises.

The waters have risen too quickly to install the system this time, so volunteers are using gravel, plastic overlay and sandbags to protect the business district, and they're layering sandbags around threatened homes, the American Legion hall and the Catholic Church.

"This just shocked us all because it just came up so quickly," alderwoman Sue Lindemann said. "We found out about the crest prediction Wednesday and we started sandbagging that night. It's going to be touch and go but we're hoping."

Lindemann said Clarksville has opted against a levee or flood wall partly because of the cost, and partly because residents like the view.

Just days ago, the Mississippi was well below flood stage. Forecasters now expect it to climb up to 12 feet above flood stage at some spots in Missouri and Illinois. National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said the swift has been stunning.

"To go from below flood stage to close to 10 feet above is unusual," he said. "Pretty amazing. It's just been skyrocketing."

In Quincy, Ill., the Mississippi jumped nearly 10 feet in 36 hours. By the time it crests Sunday at 11 feet above flood stage, a bridge may have to be shut down and the sewage plant for the community of 40,000 residents could be threatened.

Also unprotected is Grafton, Ill., a tourist town near St. Louis that sits at the convergence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. But flooding happens so often there that people are taking it in stride.

"If you live here, you understand the river," Mayor Tom Thompson said. "Nobody's in panic mode, and it's a rather calm response to something we've handled before. We'll get through this."

The main thoroughfare leading into Grafton — the Great River Road — was expected to be closed off by midday Saturday, and riverside businesses were clearing out.

Widespread flash-flooding accompanied the rains. An 80-year-old woman died in De Soto, Mo., about 40 miles southwest of St. Louis, when a creek flooded a street and swept away her car.

The National Weather Service in Indianapolis issued a flood warning for Tippecanoe County and part of Carroll County because of the rising Wabash River following heavy rain on Thursday.

Parts of Michigan got up to 4 inches of rain through Friday morning, causing flooding along the Grand River in Grand Rapids, the Saginaw River in eastern Michigan, and the Pine River at Alma.

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Associated Press reporters Jason Keyser and Tammy Webber in Chicago contributed to this report.

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