- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

VALLEY PARK, Mo. — Residents of small towns along the Meramec River watched with relief yesterday as the stream finally crested following days of flooding caused by torrential rainfall across the Midwest.

At Valley Park, the river rose to a peak of 37.8 feet yesterday morning, well above the flood stage of 16 feet but still below the record of 39.7 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

It was the first trial of the town’s $49 million levee, which stands a few feet above yesterday’s crest and was designed to withstand the biggest flood that might be expected in a century.

“It’s a 100-year event, and it’s a 100-year levee,” said Army Corps of Engineers Col. Lewis Setliff. “It got tested, and it passed.”

Elsewhere, rivers were still rising in southwest Illinois and parts of Arkansas, chasing people from their homes and into shelters. Rivers had mostly begun receding in Ohio.

At least 16 deaths have been linked to the weather over the past week, and two people are missing in Arkansas.

Thousands of people in Missouri had fled to Red Cross shelters or to the homes of friends or relatives.

The high water pushing against the other side of the Valley Park levee didn’t bother customers at Meramec Jack’s bar and grill.

Owner Tracy Ziegler, 47, was pouring cold beer yesterday morning and said she was so confident the levee would hold that “I haven’t even lifted my computer off the floor in the office.”

In southern Missouri, water poured through several breaches in levees and led authorities to evacuate towns west of Cape Girardeau. At least 200 homes and 13 businesses had been evacuated in Cape Girardeau County, said emergency management director Dick Knaup. At least 70 Missouri counties reported flooding last week.

Much of the flooding in Illinois was in sparsely populated areas, but several dozen people were evacuated from their homes in Murphysboro yesterday, said Patti Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

“For some of these places, this is their 500-year flood,” she said.

Authorities were watching a levee near Grand Tower, Ill., because of a threat that the Big Muddy River could breach it and threaten the town of about 750 people. Some Illinois streams may not crest until tomorrow, Ms. Thompson added.

In addition to the rain last week, more snow blew through parts of the Upper Midwest yesterday, a day after as much as a foot of snow canceled some Good Friday services in parts of southern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.

In Chicago, flights were mostly back on schedule by yesterday afternoon at both O’Hare and Midway airports, said Karen Pride, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. About 200 travelers were stranded overnight at O’Hare.

Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport reopened late yesterday morning after it was closed overnight because of the snow. About 200 people had to spend the night at the terminal, said airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe.

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