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Midwestern floodwaters show little sign of receding

Rainfall continues as the region recovers from severe flooding that has caused three deaths and damage from Michigan to Missouri.

April 23, 2013|By Laura J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
  • A sandbag levee holds back floodwaters in Clarksville, Mo. Communities along Midwestern waterways monitored and fortified makeshift levees holding back flooding that meteorologists said could worsen or be prolonged by looming storms.
A sandbag levee holds back floodwaters in Clarksville, Mo. Communities… (Jeff Roberson / Associated…)

Floodwaters that swept through the Midwest last week failed to recede Tuesday after another inch of rain fell in Illinois and surrounding states, and forecasters warned that more was on the way.

Heavy rainfall and severe thunderstorms battered the region with half a foot of rain last week, inundating several small towns — including Marseilles, Ill., and Kokomo, Ind. — and causing damage from lower Michigan to Missouri. Water coursed through downtown Chicago, submerging cars, knocking out power to thousands of residents and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights from O'Hare International Airport.

Three people died last week when flash floods swept their cars off the road. Rising water levels along the Illinois River and tributaries displaced thousands of residents and caused millions of dollars in damage. The governors of Missouri and Illinois declared states of emergency, a step required to receive federal aid.

"We're grateful that there was not significant loss of life," National Weather Service spokesman Eric Lenning said Tuesday. "When you have unprecedented flooding like this, that's rare."

At least six rivers in northern Illinois surged to record levels in the last week. Flooding still threatens Michigan, North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa and Mississippi.

Although the rain Tuesday and later in the week might not increase the river levels, Lenning said, it will take longer for waters to recede. Rivers could remain high in the upper Midwest until next month, he said.

States farther south also could see flooding as swollen tributaries like the Illinois, Fox, DuPage and Des Plaines rivers send extra water coursing into the Mississippi, officials said. But the riverbed widens and deepens to the south, so damage is likely to be less severe there.

The attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shifted Tuesday to North Dakota, where volunteers were building a levee of more than 1 million sandbags to prepare for rapid snowmelt in Fargo. Officials warned that the Red River could set new flooding records and send water spilling into Canada.

"We're playing the wait-and-see game," said Bob Anderson, a corps spokesman.

The flooding has shut down shipping on parts of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers as crews worked to recover dozens of barges that had broken free in stronger flood currents. Eleven barges carrying coal sank Saturday on the Mississippi near St. Louis.

Marseilles, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago, saw some of the worst damage. Flash flooding from the Illinois River left 4 feet of standing water in 230 homes, Anderson said. On Tuesday, carpets and furniture sat on the sidewalks drying out — until it began to rain again.

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