(St. Louis) (AP) – Pouring rain pelted much of the Midwest on Thursday, flooding rivers for a second time this season and leaving beleaguered residents and local officials fearing another onslaught of water.
And with more rain in the forecast, residents in towns along the swollen Mississippi and Missouri rivers can do little more than wait to see how bad it gets.
Both rivers were already flooding Thursday, as were many smaller waterways in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. As much as 4 inches of rain were expected in parts of those states through Sunday.
The rain has already caused flash-flooding in Iowa, forcing water rescues – including a police officer swimming to rescue a man from his truck after it got caught in rising waters – and home evacuations. In parts of Missouri and Illinois that hadn’t yet dried out from April flooding, residents were preparing to erect sandbag walls to protect homes and businesses.
National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said some towns along the Missouri and Mississippi could see river readings 10 feet above flood stage, which could threaten scattered homes, close roads and soak thousands of acres of farmland.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Fuchs said. “There will be quite a bit of variability in what these thunderstorms drop.”
The uncertainty is growing tiresome for 54-year-old Greg Gibson, whose two-story home sits a few hundred feet from the Mississippi River in a rural area of Missouri’s Pike County, about 70 miles north of St. Louis.
The water that poured over a levee in April has never gone away. Since mid-April, Gibson’s land has been cut off from roads. He uses a small boat to get to his car, parked at a duck club about a five-minute boat ride away.
“It’s a pain,” Gibson said. “It’s worse when it’s storming, being on that boat with lightning.”
The first floor of Gibson’s home took in 11 inches of water in April. The home that he has lived in since 1986 previously flooded in 1993, 1995 and 2008.
“I would imagine we’ll have water again,” he acknowledged, but added that it’s worth bearing for the peace and beauty that surrounds his home.
“It’s a trade-off,” Gibson said.
Pike County Emergency Management director Richard Murry said his biggest concern is that the bridge spanning the Mississippi River will have to close in Louisiana, Mo., along the Illinois border. The bridge approach on the Illinois side becomes impassable when the river reaches 23 feet. The forecast calls for it to peak at 23.7 feet Sunday.
With the next nearest bridge being more than 35 miles away in Hannibal, Mo., “a two-mile commute becomes a 75-mile commute,” Murry said.
In Iowa, heavy rain on Wednesday sent tributaries of the Cedar River Iowa over the banks, causing significant flooding northeast of Des Moines. The small town of Dunkerton, Iowa, began voluntary evacuations around 5 a.m. Thursday, said Black Hawk County Emergency Management Coordinator Lorie Glover.
Meanwhile, about 20 homes near Hudson, Iowa, were isolated when Black Hawk Creek overflowed and surrounded them. The Cedar Falls Fire Department used boats to help evacuate all but five residents who insisted on staying, Glover said.
About 30 miles east of Des Moines, three officers jumped into 12 feet of water in the swollen Prairie Creek at about 2 a.m. Thursday to rescue a tractor-trailer driver trapped in the cab of his truck. Baxter police officer Joe Bartello swam through the front windshield to get to the driver, 70-year-old Dwayne Michael of Granger, Iowa. His condition wasn’t immediately known.
In Illinois, the biggest concern was in the Quincy area, said Patti Thompson of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Prisoners were filling and piling sandbags Thursday at levees near Quincy, a town of about 40,000 residents.
John Simon, emergency management director for Adams County, Ill., said levees near Quincy were sound and a moderate flood should cause no problems. But Quincy has seen 13 inches of rain in the past two months.
With this week’s downpour and a long-range forecast for potentially more heavy rain next week, Simon couldn’t help but worry that a levee break could shut down some of the town’s biggest industrial employers.
“We’re one major rainstorm from an event like 2008 or 1993,” Simon said, referring to two of the biggest floods on record in Quincy. “Depending on what happens next week, it could really put us in a world of hurt.”