Missouri fights near-record floods

New levee, however, instills faith in residents
VALLEY PARK, Mo. The Meramec crested at about midday at 37.8 feet - its record there is 39.7 feet - the National Weather Service said. That was just over 3 feet below the top of the levee.

Upstream in Eureka, the river crested several hours earlier at 40 feet, below that town's record of 42.9 feet.

The high water pushing against the other side of the Valley Park levee didn't bother customers at Meramec Jack's bar and grill, where owner Tracy Ziegler was pouring cold beer Saturday morning.

Ziegler, 47, had been confident all along that the levee would hold. "I haven't even lifted my computer off the floor in the office," said Ziegler, who bought the bar in 2005, just after the Army Corps of Engineers finished the levee a few hundred yards away. "Why would they spend $50 million if they expected it to fail?" she said.

Flood-weary residents of Missouri, Arkansas and Ohio also were fighting to save their homes after heavy rain pushed rivers out of their banks.

In addition to this past week's rain, a lingering storm blew more snow through parts of the Upper Midwest on Saturday, a day after as much as a foot of snow canceled flights and some Good Friday services in parts of southern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.

Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport was closed overnight because of the snow, and reopened late Saturday morning. About 200 people had to spend the night at the terminal, said airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe. Some outgoing flights were still canceled Saturday because planes couldn't get to the airport Friday night, she said.

Milwaukee's 12.4 inches of snow Friday brought the city's total this season to 96 inches, its second-heaviest on record.

Farther east, in Ohio, Cleveland and Youngstown each had 7 inches of snow and counting by Saturday, just two weeks after the Cleveland area saw a foot of snow, the weather service said.

At least 16 deaths have been linked to the weather over the past week, and two people are missing since their vehicles were swept away by rushing water in Arkansas.

Parts of the Midwest got a foot of rain over a 36-hour period this week, causing widespread flash flooding. The worst flooding was along smaller rivers. The Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers saw only minor flooding.

The Army Corps of Engineers expects the $49 million levee at Valley Park to hold. If it were to break or was overtopped, nearly one-third of the homes in the town of 6,500 people could be damaged or destroyed.

Authorities were taking no chances and set up a staging area of rescue trucks and stationed a boat in a school parking lot near the town.

"The center of the flood fight now moves right here to the Meramec River and southern St. Louis County and Jefferson County," Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said late Friday.

In southern Missouri, water poured through breaches in levees and forced authorities to evacuate towns west of Cape Girardeau. At least 200 homes and 13 businesses have been evacuated in Cape Girardeau County, said emergency management director Dick Knaup.

At least 70 Missouri counties have reported flooding this week.

Rivers receded Friday in Ohio, but several areas remained under flood warnings. About 60 state roads were closed or partly blocked by flooding; crews were trying to pump water off a major route into Columbus, according to the State Highway Patrol.

Residents of the tiny Arkansas community of Georgetown along the White River were urged to leave the area Friday after forecasters said rising water would cut off their access and strand them well into next week.

"Stock up or get out. You may be there a few days," said Steve Bays, a weather service hydrologist in North Little Rock.

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