Floods force evacuations, more sandbagging efforts

April 14, 1994|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

ST. LOUIS -- This is supposed to be a time of planting in the Midwest, but once again, it was the sand truck, not the tractor, that ruled the road yesterday in parts of Illinois and Missouri.

Spring rains caused rivers to swell, unleashing a familiar chocolate swirl of floodwaters on farmers' fields, people's homes and small villages. Hundreds were evacuated. Others sandbagged.

It was all too familiar to many who had only just finished cleaning up after last summer's devastating floods.

"We just laid carpet three days ago," moaned Lorie Bowen, 31, a mother of three who had to evacuate her home in Valley Park, near St. Louis. "See that?" she said, pointing to a camper parked on the edge of the railroad tracks. "That's our home now."

Her real home probably had about three feet of water in it, she estimated. It flooded twice last year, once in the summer and once in the fall.

Streams and rivers were over their banks from Oklahoma to West Virginia. But yesterday's flooding spared most residents of the Midwest, concentrated as it was in river communities in Illinois, Ohio and Missouri, particularly along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries.

It was also far less severe than last summer, when river levels rose to historic highs. The flooding yesterday resembled an extended flash flood, resulting from a sudden downpour of spring rain earlier this week that dumped up to 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period in parts of central Missouri.

"We just got a tremendous amount of rain dumped on northern and western Missouri and parts of Iowa and Illinois," said Ken Kruchowski of the Corps of Engineers in St. Louis.

Six flood-related deaths were reported across the Midwest, including four in Missouri.

Forecasters said this week's flooding should be over by the weekend. Mr. Kruchowski said the Mississippi was expected to crest at 39 feet today at St. Louis, well below the record of nearly 50 feet set last summer when the city's barrier against the river sagged but held.

But the less-than-historic nature of this flood is little comfort to those who live along the rivers and are tired of being hit just as they scrape together a new start.

In areas such as Champaign County, Ill., the Ohio River Valley in Ohio, and Lafayette, Ind., communities were forced to issue flood warnings and close schools. More than 200 people were evacuated from their homes.

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