ST. LOUIS -- The Mississippi River quickened its ominous rise on Friday after parts of the Midwest were soaked by heavy rains this week, with some towns hurriedly building sandbag levees to protect homes and businesses.
Several communities in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri could see near-record flooding this weekend—a sharp contrast to just two months ago when the river was at near-record lows. In central Illinois, a flood-swollen river topped a levee and prompted authorities to evacuate about half of a small town.
The Mississippi was among many rivers lapping over the banks in those states and central Indiana, where heavy overnight rains also flooded rivers, streams and streets, driving some people from their homes and prompting school districts to cancel or delay the start of classes.
In Missouri, most of the 442 residents in Clarksville have pitched in on a furious effort to build a makeshift levee of gravel, plastic overlay and sandbags, trying to keep the murky Mississippi from inundating the handful of downtown businesses.
“This just shocked us all because it just came up so quickly,” alderwoman Sue Lindemann said. “We found out about the crest prediction Wednesday and we started sandbagging that night. It’s going to be touch and go but we’re hoping.”
Volunteers worked into the night to stack sandbags against rising floodwaters and evacuate people in the path, or rescue those already in danger. National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said the swiftness of the rise has been stunning.
“To go from below flood stage to close to 10 feet above is unusual,” he said. “Pretty amazing. It’s just been skyrocketing.”
In Quincy, Ill., the Mississippi jumped nearly 10 feet in 36 hours. By the time it crests Sunday at 11 feet above flood stage, a bridge over the river may have to be shut down and the sewage plant for the community of 40,000 residents could be threatened.
The torrential rains caused widespread flash-flooding, too. An 80-year-old woman died in De Soto, Mo., about 40 miles southwest of St. Louis, when a normally docile creek flooded a street and swept away her car. About 50 residents had to be rescued by boat in a low-lying area of town, said De Soto City Manager Dave Dews.
Some of the worst flooding was in the Chicago area, where up to 7 inches fell within 24 hours Wednesday night and Thursday. A massive sinkhole opened and swallowed two parked cars and one that was driving through. The driver was hospitalized but was expected to survive.
In suburban Chicago, Nick Ariano helped rescue a friend’s grandmother, who became trapped in a home filling with water after a branch of the flooding DuPage River spilled over its levee.
Ariano, his friend and another man raced to a sporting goods store to buy inflatable rafts, then paddled out to the home and got Mille Andrzejewski, in her mid-80s, to safety. The three friends got some enjoyment out of the raft ride, despite the eeriness of floating over submerged cars and mailboxes.
“As kids growing up, we used to raft down the river,” Ariano said with a laugh.
About 60 miles southwest of Chicago, a Grundy County hospital evacuated 47 patients after a nearby creek and the Illinois River rose and water crept into the basement, spokeswoman Janet Long said.
National Weather Service hydrologists are projecting flooding along several smaller rivers in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. The Illinois River—a major tributary of the Mississippi—will have major flooding for the next week to 10 days, as will the Rock River in western Illinois.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers were already at flood stage and rising fast.
Buyouts since the 1993 flood, flood walls and reinforced flood levees have gone a long way to limiting damage from Mississippi River flooding. Still, tens of thousands of acres of farmland are under water, several roads are closed, and town sewer systems are threatened if water gets high enough.
The National Weather Service in Indianapolis issued a flood warning for Tippecanoe County and part of Carroll County because of rising waters from the Wabash River following heavy rain on Thursday.
Parts of Michigan got up to 4 inches of rain through Friday morning, causing flooding along the Grand River in Grand Rapids, the Saginaw River in eastern Michigan, and the Pine River at Alma.
The one silver lining in all the rain: The drought that had the Mississippi dangerously low throughout the winter is all but over in some of the major crop-growing states, including Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to a weekly drought monitor. Small portions of Nebraska also saw improvement.
Now farmers are hoping for a dry spell to allow them to get into the fields for spring planting.