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Rivers still rising in Midwest towns

February twisters hit some of the same communities now flooded, volunteers helping even before water drops


February and March have not been kind to the residents of Mountain View, Arkansas.

The heavy rain that swept from Texas to the East Coast this week was just the latest disaster to strike this northern Arkansas community since the beginning of February. The first week of February brought deadly tornadoes and in early March, heavy snow fell here before nearly a foot of rain deluged the community earlier this week.

Presbyterian and United Methodist volunteers are amongst the faith-based responders already trying to help residents in this and many other communities. Initial supplies such as shovels and flashlights have been offered, but Liz Branch and other volunteers were able to help Mountain View also acquire a bulldozer from a Presbyterian congregation in Ripley, Mississippi.

And about 18-20 sets of mattresses are also headed to Mountain View. Now, however, it’s a matter of getting the manpower to help.

“We need drivers to deliver these things,” said Branch. “It takes people to makes these things happen.”

Branch said congregations and their churches in Mountain View have been spared by the flood damage, while the community has suffered.

“It’s the community they’re concerned about,” she said.

John Robinson, the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s (PDA) associate for Disaster Response in the United States, said Arkansas is the first state to ask for assistance following this week’s flooding. He said PDA is ready to assist in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio as well. PDA has sent nearly 100 flood cleanup kits to Arkansas.

“That’s first step,” he said. “We’re still waiting for the water to come down.”

“We had people who couldn’t get to work today,” Robinson said Thursday, referring to relief personnel trapped by the rising waters in southern Indiana.

Thursday was the first day of spring, and there is still a rainy season that comes with the warming toward summer. And all of this will follow a tumultuous beginning of 2008 that has brought weather-related calamities throughout the Midwest, southern and western states.

Tom Hazelwood, of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), said teams of United Methodist volunteers are already responding in Arkansas and UMCOR expects to assist in Illinois and Missouri as well.

In Missouri, 70 counties have been granted expedited federal assistance after Gov. Matt Blunt appealed to the government for help. Missouri state emergency and FEMA personnel will head to the 70 counties next week to start assessing the damage.

“We have no dollar amounts at this time,” said Terri Durdaller, spokesperson for Missouri Department of Public Safety. Until the water recedes it’s hard to estimate the cost of the flooding this week in Missouri, but assessments will begin next week.

As a result of the 1993 flooding, the city of Cape Girardeau may have been spared more damage from the 12-13 inches of rain it received during a 24-hour period March 18-19.

Mark Hasheider, the city’s emergency management director and assistant fire chief, said about 120 homeowners took buy-outs to move from flood prone areas that were inundated by Mississippi River flooding in 1993 and 1995. The river is expected crest at 44 feet over the weekend. On Thursday, the river had risen to 38 feet, six feet above its flood stage.

“It’s climbing very, very fast,” said Hasheider.

Cape Girardeau has a 14-foot high flood retention wall that stretches more than a mile along the Mississippi River to protect its downtown historic district. The city also has storm water retention basins that have largely limited flood damage, so far, to flooded basements.

“They performed very well,” Hasheider, said of the retention basins.

The flooding this week has been blamed for about 13 deaths overall. In Ohio, a four-mile stretch of eastbound lanes on Interstate 70 was closed in Licking County. And near Columbus, drivers were rerouted from U.S. Route 23 when its northbound lanes were covered by floodwaters at the juncture with Interstate 270.

As the storm moved east, the Ohio River in Pittsburgh is expected to crest at 23 feet Friday, a foot above the point before water starts spilling into city streets.

In Indiana, a shelter was opened in Paoli after there were evacuations there and in French Lick in Orange County, which received about six inches of rain during a 36-hour period.

In southern Illinois, 19 counties have been declared state disaster areas after more than a foot of rain fell in some areas. Illinois state workers were delivering equipment and sandbags to the region after state inmates filled the sandbags to stop the rising floodwaters.

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