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Photo: Kevin E. Schmidt, AP
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — The latest round of Midwestern flooding claimed at least three lives, closed hundreds of roads and forced residents of threatened towns to shore up threatened levees with sandbags as waters rose to record levels in some communities.
The National Weather Service issued flood warnings Friday along a large swath of the Mississippi River, as well as flash flood watches for parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas after recent rounds of heavy rain.
In southwest Missouri, authorities were searching Friday for a paddler whose kayak overturned in a flooded creek, one day after finding the body of his friend, 23-year-old Alex Ekern. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace said the two were among three men who began paddling Wednesday afternoon on Bull Creek near the small town of Walnut Shade. They had been on the water about 45 minutes when they were swept over a low-water bridge and were caught in what is called a hydraulic, which creates a washing-machine effect that is hard to escape. Pace said one of the kayakers was eventually swept downstream, climbed a steep bank and sought help.
Flooding also claimed the life of a camper who was found Wednesday after he was caught in waters from an overflowed creek near the town of Ava, also in southwest Missouri. And in northern Indiana, a 2-year-old was killed when his mother drove onto a flooded road.
In Davenport, Iowa, concerns were that even after the Mississippi River reached a record height, the worst was far from over.
The crest inched above the 1993 record on Thursday, and forecasters are calling for up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) of additional rain next week, meaning the high water will likely stick around and potentially get even higher.
Several blocks of downtown Davenport were flooded this week when a flood barrier succumbed to the onslaught of water. The river at the Quad Cities has been at major flood stage or higher for 41 consecutive days.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visited Davenport Friday.
Historic flooding was happening elsewhere along the river, too. The National Weather Service is now projecting flood levels to reach the second- or third-highest ever at several Mississippi River towns in northeast Missouri — Hannibal, Louisiana, Clarksville and Winfield — and western Illinois towns such as Quincy, Alton and Grafton.
Grafton Mayor Rick Eberlin said in a conference call that included the leaders of other river towns that roads are closing around the town and that it’s working to get businesses to move out as waters rise. The town, which is 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of St. Louis, has no flood walls or levees. He said water is beginning to encroach upon city hall.
“We are at our wits end,” Eberlin said. “We are totally unprotected.”
Kimmswick Mayor Phil Stang said the community is building atop a permanent levee in hopes of holding back the water. “We’ve closed off the city completely. As soon as it rains, we are a bathtub.”
Sandbagging efforts began Friday in Winfield, where the Pin Oak Levee was threatened. Winfield, about 50 miles north of St. Louis, was among many towns where volunteers were racing the clock to add sandbags to the tops of levees and around homes and businesses.
In Alton, the Argosy Casino Alton was forced to close on Friday as floodwaters crept higher into downtown. Alton’s mayor, Brant Walker, complained that the city is “doing flood control every eight months” and that the frequent business closures are hurting the city’s finances.
“We are barely keeping our head above water,” he said.
In St. Louis, the Gateway Arch remains open, even as floodwaters pour over the road beneath it.
The Mississippi isn’t the only river bulging out of its banks. Moderate flooding at Missouri River towns like Washington and St. Charles in Missouri was causing headaches like road closures, but few homes were impacted.
The Meramec River in suburban St. Louis is rising fast and will crest Sunday and Monday around 15 feet (4.5 meters) above flood stage in towns like Arnold and Valley Park, threatening several homes and businesses.
Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Missouri. Marjery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.