The New York Times, May 18, 2002
CHICAGO, May 17 — Residents across Illinois, Indiana and Missouri braced for more flooding today as scattered showers continued. Even so, there was hope that sandbags would prevail against overflowing rivers that were already blamed for nine deaths in the past two weeks.
The governors of Illinois and Missouri declared states of emergency this week, as did officials in 15 Indiana counties.
Missouri was apparently the hardest hit, with eight deaths reported. In asking President Bush to declare 37 counties as disaster areas, Gov. Bob Holden cited the deaths and the loss of millions of dollars in property damage and to local economies.
In Illinois, Senator Richard J. Durbin sent a letter to President Bush on Thursday asking him to declare the state a federal disaster area.
"We've got a serious problem facing us here, and I hope we get a response soon," Mr. Durbin said late today, adding that he had surveyed flooding downstate a week ago. "It's gotten progressively worse."
The flooding has already affected thousands of residents in the region, forcing the evacuation of many and the closure of scores of roads.
Across the Midwest today, residents were looking for a rainbow, though all that existed for some on this dreary day was rain.
In flood-weary towns, like Crystal City, Mo., about 30 miles south of St. Louis where the Mississippi River has spilled into downtown, the continued rain kept many volunteers stacking sandbags, hopeful that they would keep the water at bay. In Indiana, where Gov. Frank O'Bannon toured the central and southern parts of the state by helicopter this week, rivers and creeks flowed out of their banks.
Today, scattered showers across Indiana added to some of the worst flooding the state has seen in at least six years. An above-normal rainfall this spring and heavy showers this month had swelled creeks and rivers. Hundreds of residents were driven from their homes or cut off by water on low-lying roads. Farmers, already behind on planting corn, were expecting more weeks of delays with many fields under water.
In the first flood-related death reported outside of Missouri, officials in Bath, Ill., said that Christian Turner, 8, drowned on Thursday after jumping out of a boat that had broken away from a mooring behind his house where he and two other boys were playing.
"He started drifting downstream and kind of panicked a little bit," said John Windsor of the Mason County Sheriff's Department. "The water was only like six feet, and the current, the way it is, it just makes it 10 times more dangerous."
In Bath, and elsewhere across east central Illinois, volunteers stacked sandbags today, expecting the Illinois River to crest on Monday, officials said.
"It's starting to get a little worse," Mr. Windsor said late today.
Gov. George H. Ryan of Illinois issued a disaster declaration this week to provide state resources to respond to flooding. Illinois prison inmates filled sandbags at trouble spots, distributing at least 650,000 through today.
In Missouri, two storm systems the past two weeks have left the Mississippi swollen, flooding low-lying areas, officials said. The heavy rainfall also raised the Missouri River, causing its tributaries to flood in the western part of the state.
John Ogren, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, characterized the current flooding as serious, but not yet reaching the level of 1993 floods that devastated parts of the region.
"If you are being impacted by this flood, it's serious," Mr. Ogren said. "But it doesn't have the same geographical scope as the 1993 floods."
He added: "In 1993, we had a lot of snowfall in the winter, so we had the heavy rains fall on top of the snow. This year, we didn't have a lot of snowfall. We started off reasonably dry."
Mr. Ogren said forecasters predicted above-average rainfall for the Midwest through August. "We are not out of the woods yet," he said.
In Missouri, the rain had been expected to end by midday today — but kept falling. It was forecast to continue through the weekend in parts of Illinois and Indiana.
The National Weather Service said that some sections of Indiana could see as much as four more inches of rain and that water levels in the region's rivers would remain high for the next week to 10 days.
By this evening, there was some good news in Crystal City, even with State Highway 67 under three feet of water from the Mississippi that fed into the Joachim Creek, spilling over. Officials said the river crested today at 37.2 feet, about 8 feet above flood stage.
"It's about to clear up," Karry Friedmeyer, the city's superviser of streets. "It looks like we're just about to get out of the rain here. Hopefully, the flood waters will be receding here pretty soon."
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS,May 18, 2002
CRYSTAL CITY, Mo. (AP) -- His tattoo parlor surrounded by sandbags three feet high, Joe Runnels was under siege: The flooding Mississippi had turned a central point of Crystal City's downtown business district into a lake.
``In a situation like this, what can you do?'' Runnels said Thursday as rain bounced off his face in this town of 4,000 near St. Louis. ``You're at the mercy of it all.''
With rain still falling Friday, parts of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana braced for more flooding. Rain was forecast to end by midday Friday in Missouri, but was expected to continue throughout the day in portions of Illinois and Indiana. The National Weather Service predicted 3 to 4 more inches for some areas of Indiana.
So far this month, flooding has been blamed for eight deaths in Missouri and, on Thursday, contributed to an 8-year-old boy's drowning in Illinois.
In Crystal City, some merchants sandbagged as the Mississippi backed up through a normally shallow creek and flooded parts of the business district. Others, like a rental shop just down the road, moved everything out.
Missouri Gov. Bob Holden declared a statewide emergency. State emergency officials said more than half the state's 114 counties reported flood damage.
In Indiana, meanwhile, Gov. Frank O'Bannon said flooding in the state's central and southern portions could reach record levels.
At least 15 to 20 Indiana families had been forced from their homes by flooding from the Wabash, White and Patoka rivers, said Joe Deal, emergency management director in Gibson County. All three rivers were still rising Friday.
In Illinois, Sen. Dick Durbin sent a letter to President Bush on Thursday asking him to declare the state a federal disaster area.
The Illinois boy who drowned Thursday was identified as Christian Turner. Authorities said he and two other boys were playing in a boat in floodwaters in central Illinois when it began to drift into a tributary of the swollen Illinois River. The boy apparently panicked, jumped out of the boat and drowned.
In Dutchtown, Mo., a Mississippi River town 120 miles south of St. Louis, workers from the Corps of Engineers and the county highway department, along with scores of volunteers, built a makeshift levee out of crushed limestone.
A Coast Guard spokesman said the agency may close the Mississippi below Cape Girardeau, Friday night or Saturday. The river would be closed to traffic to protect levees from barge wakes.
Near-record flooding worries farmers in Indiana
Gov. Frank O'Bannon said Thursday the flooding in central and southern Indiana "could reach record levels."
The governor, interviewed on the CBS "Early Show," said he had ordered precautionary measures because more rain is expected.
"I've activated part of the National Guard, where the flood waters are going," O'Bannon said. "There's been some receding here (in Indianapolis), but more rain could push it back up."
The governor said about 30-40 families had been evacuated in southern Indiana because of the flooding.
Meanwhile, the heavy rains that brought the extensive flooding also contributed to Indiana's wettest spring on record, according to a state climatologist.
Ken Scheeringa, who is based at Purdue University, said the state received an average of 15.63 inches of rain from March 1 to May 13, the most in the 107 years that precipitation records have been kept.
The previous record average was 14.51 inches set in 1922. The normal rainfall for that period is 9.6 inches, Scheeringa said Wednesday.
The rain also has hurt Indiana farmers, said Ellsworth Christmas, a Purdue extension agronomist. He said farmers in many areas of the state may not be able to get into their fields for up to two weeks.
"If it stops raining, we're about one week from planting. Some areas are two weeks or more from planting because of standing water," Christmas said. "We're about as saturated as it can get."
As of Monday, statewide corn planting was about three weeks behind the 5-year average, according to a Purdue study. Only 11 percent of the state's planned corn crop had been planted as of Monday, compared with the 98 percent planted by the same time last year and the 5-year average of 69 percent.
O'Bannon approved deployment of 80 members of the Indiana National Guard to be ready to help those in the hardest-hit areas, and he flew to Bedford on Wednesday to see the extent of the damage there.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service on Thursday said a flood warning for the Wabash River from south of Terre Haute to the Mount Carmel, Ill., area would be in effect through Monday, and extensive flooding will continue in southwest Indiana and southeast Illinois through May 23.
The river will remain near crest level for 3-5 days, the weather service said.
"A tremendous amount of water is surging into the Wabash from the White River ... causing the worst flooding to extend from the Vincennes area down to the Ohio River," according to a flood statement issued early Thursday by the weather service.
Near Bloomington, the water level in Indiana's largest lake began to recede Wednesday, a day after reaching its highest level since the reservoir was completed in 1965.
Water began flowing through Lake Monroe's emergency spillway for the first time on Tuesday after several days of operators holding back what had drained into it during this month's almost-daily rainstorms.
Flooding downstream from the lake about 10 miles south of Bloomington decreased enough on Wednesday that operators also began to release water through the dam, said David Cable, the Army Corps of Engineers' park manager.
"We are trying to get some of the water released while the rivers downstream are down a bit," Cable said. "If we have additional water coming into the lake and if we're full that water is going to have to pass on through."
Al Shipe, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, said a week of dry weather might be needed to bring an end to all the flooding.
"We're more than just saturated -- we're waterlogged," Shipe said.
So waterlogged, in fact, that the size of Lake Monroe, which usually covers 10,750 acres, was estimated at 18,450 acres on Wednesday.
Some state highways were closed in Knox, Daviess, Greene, Martin, Pike and Lawrence counties and officials in 14 counties have declared local emergencies, but many people forced from their homes earlier this week have been able to return.
"There are no widespread evacuations," said State Emergency Management Agency spokesman Alden Taylor. "A couple in one spot, maybe eight to twelve in another area."
The National Guard on Wednesday began moving support staff and two helicopters to the Bedford armory, about 30 miles south of Bloomington, to be prepared if more rain falls in the coming days, Taylor said.
"We don't know what is going to happen this weekend, so by having them on duty down there they will be all set and ready to go in whatever direction they need to go," he said.
The weather service's forecast of up to an inch of rain Thursday and Thursday night as another storm front passes through the state can't bring much hope to farmers already far behind in planting crops.
"After last week's three of four days in a row, then the rain over the weekend, the streams are not falling down as fast as usual," Shipe said. "We have lakes where they probably haven't seen them before."
Copyright 2002Associated Press. All rights reserved
New rain to worsen flooding in Missouri
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- After three straight sunny days in eastern Missouri, many in flooded areas braced Thursday for another round of rain to complicate already swollen waterways and soaked soil.
Meteorologists forecast 1 to 3 inches of rain on Thursday, as a cold front moves into the state and meets with moist air blowing north from the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting thunderstorms, matched with ground already soaked through, leads to a pretty likely result.
"With the winds out of the south, you don't need much rain to cause flooding now," said Mark Britt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis.
With Missouri rivers already over their usual banks and the ground unable to absorb more water, Britt said the staff at the weather service office was ready to keep watch for flash flooding on Thursday. In fact, many rivers were already under a flood warning.
The rain wasn't expected to last long, with Britt expecting the cold front by Friday and into most of the weekend to move far enough south of the area, taking the thunderstorms with it.
All the while, furious sandbagging continued in parts of the state that included Jefferson County's Crystal City, where dozens of volunteers and shop owners scrambled to protect businesses from flooding on Plattin Creek, a Mississippi River tributary.
"We're holding our own," said Karry Friedmeyer, the community's public works director. "The people are holding their own."
Farther south around Cape Girardeau, the Mississippi was backing up against the Ohio River. The two rivers meet at Cairo, Ill., where the Ohio is forecast to crest next week within five feet of a record that has held since 1937.
"We've got a lot of water -- you need some?" Charlie Griffith, deputy coordinator of emergency management in Cape Girardeau County, joked Wednesday. "In some places it's going down, in some places it's going up, and we've got rain in the forecast."
So far this month, flooding in Missouri has been blamed for eight deaths, most resulting from flash floods.
On Wednesday, the Missouri River was at 29 feet in Hermann, eight feet above flood stage and 23 feet higher than earlier this month. In St. Charles, the Missouri was at 31.6 feet, more that six feet above flood stage.
On the Mississippi, water continues to cover the boulevard along the river's edge in downtown St. Louis, leaving now ironic "No Parking" signs poking through the swifter current and forcing visitors to find another way to the Gateway Arch.
"We live pretty close to Lake Erie, but the water doesn't come up there," said Art Drewyor, of Toledo, Ohio, who stopped Wednesday at the Arch with his wife and father-in-law on their way to Branson. "We saw on The Weather Channel the river flooding and all the water. We were worried the Arch would be closed."
It's not closed, but fronted by a partly flooded staircase normally descending to the roadside. The Mississippi was at 36.5 feet in St. Louis on Wednesday, almost seven feet above flood stage. It was forecast to rise another few inches before starting to recede on Friday.
The high water on the two major rivers didn't escape notice in Washington, where Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., used the flooding to scold the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps is considering proposed changes to its dam and reservoir operations on the Missouri, including a plan that would mimic traditional seasonal flow changes that include a "spring rise" duplicating upriver snow melt.
"My constituents continue to ask why flooding is needed when it is what they already have," Bond said in a letter to the Corps.
Much of Commerce, in southeast Missouri, remained under water on Wednesday, though Scott County officials said residents had not yet been ordered to evacuate. More than 10 roads were closed in the county, as water in creeks and streams feeding into the Mississippi exceeded their banks.
In nearby Dutchtown, part of Cape Girardeau County, officials planned to add two feet of gravel to the levee along Highway 74, Griffith said.
A bridge at Alton, Ill., north of St. Louis, remained closed on the Missouri side -- motorists could travel into Alton but not out of it via the bridge.
Copyright 2002Associated Press. All rights reserved