Heavy rain prompts flood concerns in Midwest

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ST. LOUIS -- Just nine months after major floods ravaged parts of the Midwest, strong weekend storms are causing rivers to swell again and raising new high water concerns.

The latest flooding isn't expected to reach anywhere near 2008 levels, but it's enough to leave flood watchers nervous, especially near the neighboring Iowa communities of Wapello and Oakville, where a levee broken nine months ago hasn't been repaired.

On Monday, Iowa River water poured through the hole, covering a road and threatening thousands of acres of rich farmland.

"Obviously we have a lot of concerns since we don't have the levees rebuilt," Louisa County Sheriff Curt Braby said. A temporary sand levee now protects Oakville, but residents remained jittery -- last summer's flood nearly wiped out the town of 440 residents.

"They've been nervous ever since it went out and the water went down," Braby said. "They want it fixed, and they don't know when it's going to be fixed and this is just adding to their unease."

The rainfall was part of a system that spurred strong storms and tornadoes in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.

Parts of the Midwest got up to 3 inches of rain over the weekend, and National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said some regions in the three states could get another 2 to 2 1/2 inches of rain by midday today. The Weather Service issued flood warnings in several states.

The worst of it along the Mississippi River was expected at the Missouri towns of Canton and Hannibal and the Illinois town of Quincy. Moderate flooding was expected in all three communities. Flood warnings extended along the river to Grafton, Ill., about 40 miles north of St. Louis.

Mississippi River flooding will force road closures and swamp thousands of acres of farmland, but only a few homes will be impacted. Flood buyouts after the 1993, 1995 and 2008 floods have removed most homes that were previously in the flood plain.

The steady weekend rain prompted flood warnings in eastern and central Iowa including the Mississippi, Wapsipinicon, Cedar, Des Moines, English and Skunk rivers.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the Iowa River at Wapello had risen over 3.8 feet in 24 hours to just over the 20-foot flood stage -- still a far cry from last June's record of 32 feet.

In Iowa City, water was knee-deep in a mobile home park on Sunday after ditches filled up, and the storm drains couldn't handle all the water.

Water was lapping at the second step of Rod Macomber's mobile home.

"Every time we get a good rain it just pours under my trailer," he said.

In northwest Missouri, the Grand River was already 6 feet above flood stage at Chillicothe and expected to rise another 2 feet. But the town's flood plain administrator, Gil Gates, said only a few roads and agricultural land was getting wet. If the river gets to 35 feet, U.S. 65 could be shut down.

In Illinois, the Green River overtopped its banks at Geneseo. The expected crest of 18.5 feet today would be the third-highest on record. For now, a few roads and streets are affected, but if the river reaches 19.3 feet, water could reach the deck of a highway bridge.

Findlay, Ohio, hit hard by flooding in February 2008, was also bracing for more high water. The Blanchard River, which runs through downtown, rose 13 feet in 36 hours, climbing more than 4 feet above flood stage on Monday and closing dozens of roads.

The Blanchard River has topped flood levels about a dozen times since 2007. Two of those floods -- in August 2007 and in February 2008 -- forced people out of their homes and closed dozens of streets.

Forecasters said a repeat of the 2008 flood is unlikely, at least for now. After the rain ends today, the Weather Service expects mostly dry weather through the weekend.

"This certainly doesn't compare with the big flood of last year, but it's enough to get our attention," Fuchs said.

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