Flooding goes from bad to worse with more rain

Friday, May 17, 2002

CRYSTAL CITY, Mo. -- Joe Runnels flicked ashes from his cigarette into a puddle, looked to the sky and winced as more rain bounced off his face.

"We've done everything we can," said Runnels, whose Etched in Flesh tattoo parlor was surrounded by sandbags piled 3 feet high. "In a situation like this, what can you do? You're at the mercy of it all."

Merchants in this St. Louis-area community of 4,000 got ready for more misery as the flooding Mississippi River backed up through a normally shallow creek and turned part of the downtown business district into a lake.

Some, like Runnels, sandbagged. Others, like a rental shop just down the road, moved everything out. At the First Baptist Church on the corner, parishioners stood under a canopy, no doubt praying that water creeping into the parking lot would stay out of the building.

Three days of dry weather ended Thursday with more rain in the Midwest. The forecast called for 1 to 3 inches of rain through today.

With the rain heading east, residents in flooded areas of Illinois and Indiana were also on edge.

So far this month, flooding has been blamed for eight deaths, all in Missouri, but high water is causing problems in all three states.

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden declared a statewide emergency, which frees up state resources to help flood-damaged areas.

State emergency officials said more than half the state's 114 counties reported flood damage.

In Illinois, Gov. George Ryan declared the entire state a disaster area as a pre-emptive measure.

Chris Tamminga of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said state workers were fighting rising water in about 15 locations.

"We're trying to protect towns, homes, water plants and other critical infrastructure," he said.

In Chandlerville, about 35 miles northwest of Springfield, state prisoners helped residents fill sandbags to stop water flowing through a broken levee on the Sangamon River.

The Coast Guard closed a 57-mile stretch of the Illinois River to all traffic and also ordered vessels to move slowly on a long stretch of the Mississippi River to reduce wakes and lessen pressure on levees.

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