Midwest flooding kills 1, closes roads; more hazards expected

Thursday, May 13, 2010 | 6:32 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Flooding in the Midwest has killed one person, shut down roads, soaked farmland and caused an Amtrak train to be diverted. And it could get worse.

National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said Thursday that several towns along the Missouri River will see moderate to major flooding by early next week. Roads will be closed and crops will get wet. Fuchs said if projections hold, the airport in Jefferson City may have to temporarily close.

Local flood information

A flash flood warning for Boone County has been extended through 4:30 p.m. Friday. Seven area roads were closed due to flooding as of 6 p.m. Thursday, including Strawn Road, Driskel Road at low water crossing, Brushwood Lake Road west of Scott Boulevard, Wilcox Road at Route E, Tri-City Lake Road at Highway CC, Easley River Road near Coopers Landing and Stone Drive near Dripping Springs Road.

For more current road closure information, visit the county's Office of Emergency Management website.

"We're looking basically at the highest flooding the Missouri (River) has seen this year, and it may be the highest we've seen in quite a while," Fuchs said.

The forecast offers little relief, with thunderstorms possible through Sunday.

"We're pretty wet right now, so if we did get a big event in the next week or so, we could have some pretty significant flooding," Fuchs said.

It has already been a wet week across the plains. Parts of Iowa received more than 5 inches of rain Wednesday night and Thursday morning. A day earlier, the St. Louis region was hit with thunderstorms that brought up to 3 inches of rain.

As a result, rivers and creeks have risen sharply — too much in many places. Flash floods closed dozens of roads and smaller highways. Flash flood warnings were in effect throughout parts of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

In northern Missouri, 32-year-old Jody Jones of Rutledge died late Wednesday after his vehicle was swept away by a flash flood. The Missouri State Highway Patrol said Jones drowned while trying to get out of the vehicle.

In Iowa, Amtrak was forced to detour its eastbound California Zephyr on Thursday. The San Francisco-to-Chicago passenger train uses Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks, and heavy rain disrupted those tracks in the Ottumwa and Burlington areas, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Several streets in Burlington were flooded after the town received more than 5 inches of rain late Wednesday and early Thursday. "I don't think I've ever seen so much rain in one day," police Lt. Steve Bell said.

Flooding wasn't the only weather worry. Violent storms swept parts of southwest Missouri on Thursday. The Weather Service confirmed that a small tornado touched down shortly before 7 a.m., destroying a Pizza Hut restaurant near downtown Monett and damaging several other businesses. No injuries were reported.

At Jefferson City, where the Missouri Legislature is wrapping up its 2010 session on Friday, the Missouri River is expected to crest at 29.5 feet on Monday — nearly 7 feet above flood stage and the second-highest reading in 16 years.

A levee protects Jefferson City Memorial Airport, but only if water stays below 30 feet.

"Right now we're just keeping an eye on it," airport manager Ron Craft said. "We're not making plans for any evacuations or anything like that."

Moderate flooding was also predicted in Missouri Wine Country towns of Hermann and Washington. Fuchs said parts of scenic Highway 94 will probably be closed.

The Mississippi was rising, too, but not as much. The Weather Service projects the river will reach 5.1 feet above flood stage in St. Louis on Monday. That could force temporary closure of the President Casino, the region's only casino that actually sits on the river. So far, the casino is still open.

The Mississippi is expected to reach 7 feet above flood stage in Cape Girardeau on May 21. Across the river in Thebes, Ill., the river was forecast to reach flood stage of 35 feet by Sunday, then crest at 37.5 feet several days later.

Smaller rivers are also a concern, especially the three branches of the Fabius in northern Missouri. All three branches were at major flood stage Thursday, swamping farmland and closing several roads. The projected crest of 17.8 feet on Friday at Ewing would be the fifth-highest on record.

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