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Thursday May 23rd, 2019 5:10AM

Midwest downpours prompt more evacuations, flash flood fears

By The Associated Press
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rain swamping the nation's midsection forced people from their homes in Kansas, stranded dozens of Texas children at school overnight and strained levees along the surging Mississippi River in Illinois, Missouri and elsewhere Wednesday prompting yet more flash flood concerns.

The flooding began in earnest in March, causing billions of dollars of damage to farmland, homes and businesses across the Midwest. Rivers in many communities have been above flood stage for more than six weeks following waves of heavy rain.

Some parts of Kansas received up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) from Tuesday through Wednesday morning, said Kelly Butler, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita. She described that as a "ridiculous amount of water" on top of grounds that already were saturated by days of rains. Several Kansas districts canceled classes, and numerous water rescues were reported.

Emergency management officials began evacuating people from their homes near the Kansas college town of Manhattan around 5 a.m. Wednesday as Wildcat Creek overflowed its banks. The Cottonwood River spilled over in Marion County, prompting more evacuations and the surging Slate Creek also forced people from their homes in Wellington and closed a stretch of the Kansas Turnpike near the Oklahoma border.

"It seemed like our poor fire department folks were going out constantly overnight, whether it was sandbagging, barricading streets or assisting citizens," said Keri Korthals, the emergency management director in Butler County, where crews rescued around a dozen people from vehicles stuck in rising water from the Walnut and Whitewater rivers.

Flash flood watches also are in effect in Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as flood warnings along the Mississippi River.

A severe thunderstorm caused flash floods in the Houston area Tuesday, leading to abandoned vehicles and drenched homes. About 60 students had to spend the night at an elementary school after flooded roads prevented buses from leaving and parents from picking them up.

The rainfall didn't compare to the deluge Houston experienced during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, but flooding is an experience one expert said was becoming the new normal.

"We're going to have to learn to live with flooding in Houston and we haven't quite accepted that reality yet," said Jim Blackburn, co-director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters Center at Rice University in Houston.

The national Storm Prediction Center said rain remained in the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday in the Central Plains and Mississippi Valley, which could cause more problems because the soil is so saturated.

While the river was slowly going down from St. Louis and to the north, it continued rising in southern Missouri and southern Illinois. The Mississippi was nearing an expected 44-foot (13.5-meter) crest in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, 12 feet (3.5 meters) above technical flood stage. A concrete floodwall there protects the historic downtown, but low-lying areas of Cape Girardeau and neighboring communities were underwater.

The Illinois River remained nearly 10 feet (3 meters) above flood stage at Peoria, Illinois, where sandbags were helping to fortify downtown. One major concern in Peoria and other Illinois River towns was that the water level is expected to remain extraordinarily high into next week.

Other parts of the country also were dealing with flooding.

Buildings and roads were flooded along the St. Clair River in Algonac, Michigan. The river links Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair, and flooding is possible along those lakes as well as the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.

Among several high water rescues reported in Oklahoma, a school bus became stranded as it carried students to school Wednesday morning near El Reno, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Oklahoma City. Firefighters said the bus driver was trying to avoid high water on the road and got stuck on a verge while attempting to turn around. Students were picked up by another vehicle and taken to school.

Meanwhile, a stretch of Interstate 29 in northwestern Missouri opened Wednesday for the first time since floodwaters shut it down in March . Many other roads and highways in northwestern Missouri and southwestern Iowa remain closed due to damage from late March and early April flooding on the Missouri River.

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Salter reported from St. Louis.

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Associated Press reporter Juan Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.

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