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Hurricane Ike pours floodwaters on Midwestern states

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | 3:55 p.m. CDT; updated 1:09 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 17, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Just a few months after near-record flooding across the Midwest, roads were under water again Tuesday in Missouri and elsewhere, and utility crews were struggling to restore electrical service to thousands of customers in the wake of the remnants of Hurricane Ike.

"The old-timers knew it was wise to leave the sandbags," said Arnold City Administrator Matthew Unrein, whose town south of St. Louis still has the sandbag defenses it built when it was threatened by floods in March. The Meramec River was expected to reach 18 feet above flood stage in Arnold on Thursday.

Several rivers in Missouri were rising toward crests expected later this week, some more than 15 feet above flood stage. Flooding already was occurring at several towns along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, including St. Louis. The President Casino on the St. Louis riverfront shut down for the third time since April because of high water and the boulevard that runs in front of the Gateway Arch was closed.

Hundreds of roads were flooded around the state, including about 200 state roads and highways.

The National Weather Service is projecting moderate flooding from Hannibal south to the convergence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Major flooding is expected from St. Louis south to Cape Girardeau, although few homes are expected to be affected. At Hermann, the Missouri is expected to crest 11.5 feet above flood stage Thursday, enough to flood 37,000 acres of farmland and threaten at least two businesses.

In central Illinois, the rising Illinois River had chased about 100 people from their homes in Morris, Assistant Fire Chief Robert Will said. By Friday, the river is expected to crest more than 7 feet above flood stage at Peoria, officials said.

Ike dumped as much as 8 inches of rain on parts of Indiana, Illinois and Missouri after coming ashore in Texas during the weekend. It spawned a tornado in Arkansas that damaged several buildings and hurricane-force wind in Ohio.

The devastating rain and wind in the Midwest brought Ike's total death toll to at least 40 in 10 states from the Gulf Coast to the upper Ohio Valley.

The violent weather also blacked out more than 2 million homes and businesses across the Midwest, most of them in Ohio. The governors of Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky declared states of emergency. Several utilities said many customers might not be back on line until the weekend, but Louisville Gas and Electric says it could be two weeks before service is fully restored in Kentucky's largest city.

More than a half-million Kentucky customers lost power at the height of the storm. "This is the biggest outage on record in the commonwealth of Kentucky," said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. He said half of the state's 120 counties reported storm damage.

The rain from Ike combined with earlier storms in southern and western Michigan to rupture a dam in Berrien County and lead to massive sewage overflows and street flooding, authorities said.

An 8-foot section of that earthen dam gave way Monday night on the Dowagiac River, and about a dozen homes had to be evacuated. The dam is about 165 miles west-southwest of Detroit.

Utilities in Ohio called in hundreds of reinforcements to fix outages and predicted that some of the 2 million homes and businesses blacked out by the stormy weather may be in the dark until the weekend. As of Tuesday, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency said 1.4 million customers still had no electricity.

The rain also overwhelmed Chicago's 4,300 miles of sewers - backing up into homes and inundating streets and parking lots.

Stores in the Chicago area reported a run on sump and utility pumps. "People were running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to stop the damage," said Pete Palermo, a manager of the Keystone Ace Hardware in Albany Park.

Hundreds of homes were flooded in northwestern Indiana during the weekend, and a busy stretch of Interstate 80/94 was still blocked by water Tuesday. Road crews were still working to pump water from the highway, a major route into the Chicago area, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.

Indiana National Guard troops were activated Sunday and Monday to help evacuate about 5,000 residents from flooded parts of Munster, Ind., during the weekend.

"The water was nothing but a trickle in the middle of the street, and by the time we decided what to do it was too late," said Munster resident George Polvich, who was rescued by boat.

 


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