Thousands Remain Evacuated
Undated (AP) _ Thousands of Midwesterners remained out of their water-ravaged homes today as officials lobbied for federal assistance to help pay for damage from more than a week of rain and flooding that killed at least eight people.
″We’ve looked down the barrel of a water cannon, and we’ve been shot,″ said Missouri Gov. John D. Ashcroft, who was heading to Washington today.
The floods have forced up to 55,000 people from their homes at one time or another: 30,000 in Oklahoma, 16,000 in Illinois, 7,000 in Missouri and 1,500 to 2,000 in Kansas.
About five feet of water swamped the streets of East St. Louis, Ill., where a broken floodgate allowed the rising Mississippi River to flow into the city. American Red Cross officials said up to 1,200 people were forced from their homes in the area, and those evacuated would not be able to return until Wednesday at the earliest.
In northeast Oklahoma, residents of 500 homes in Miami remained out of their houses this morning because of flooding from the Neosho River, said Police Chief Bill Melton. The river was receding slowly today after cresting Monday night at 19 feet above flood stage, Melton said.
All main streets in the city of 14,000 residents were under water Monday. Public schools were closed and officials of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College dismissed classes for the school’s 2,400 students for the week.
The flooding was blamed for five deaths in Illinois, two in Oklahoma and one in Missouri. In addition, 13 deaths are blamed on storms and flooding since Sept. 10 in Michigan. Other floods were blamed for one death in Texas, one in Montana and one in Pennsylvania.
Flood damage to Oklahoma roads and highways is so widespread it may take months to assess the damage, said deputy transportation director Monty Murphy.
In Oklahoma’s Bartlesville and in the Tulsa area, many residents on Monday returned to homes inundated by up to eight feet of water.
One of the state’s hardest hit communities was Bixby, where about 5,000 residents were evacuated Sunday as flood waters washed across the town.
Bixby police dispatcher Rick Jackson said some of those evacuated were allowed to return Monday, but he said he did not know how many residents were still displaced this morning.
Health officials ordered all customers of the city’s water department to boil their drinking water after water pipes broke, he said.
Along the Missouri River in Missouri, a levee broke early Monday in St. Charles County, near St. Louis, and National Guardsmen were sent to help evacuate residents of two mobile home parks, authorities said. About 800 families were asked to leave.
″The majority of them got out, but a few stayed,″ Lt. Jim Hudson of the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department said early today. ″The rest of them are hollering and screaming now for us to get them.″
The river rose to 37.5 feet today at St. Charles, more than 12 feet over flood stage. The National Weather Service said it should begin receding today after reaching its highest level since 1951.
The Mississippi River was expected to crest Wednesday at St. Louis at 40 or 41 feet, about 10 feet over flood stage. The highest crest on record was 43.2 feet in April 1973.
Ashcroft said 91 major levees had been breached statewide, and communities in 80 counties experienced some damage from the flooding. Damage was severe in 30 counties, he said.
Ashcroft said he planned to meet with White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan today to brief him on the damage.
Michigan Gov. James Blanchard on Monday began a two-day visit to Washington to lobby for an amendment passed Friday by the Senate that would provide more than $250 million for farmers from flood-ravaged areas.
Blanchard was to meet with members of Congress today. Michigan officials have estimated agricultural damage at $240 million, with at least 1.5 million of the state’s 18 million acres of farmland affected.
After more than three weeks of rain, skies cleared today over Lower Michigan and only the Saginaw River remained above flood stage. But residents of Macomb County’s Harrison Township continued sandbagging because of overflowing canals from Lake St. Clair. ″The water’s not going down at all,″ Fire Capt. Charles Hart said today.
Gov. John Carlin of Kansas on Monday requested a federal disaster declaration for 13 counties.
″It’s very, very severe,″ said Gary Kilgore, extension service crops specialist for southeast Kansas. ″We’ve had probably the worst flooding in recent history. People are saying it’s the worst in 40 to 50 years.″
Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson declared five new counties disaster areas Monday, for a total of eight.
But some people tried to make the best of the situation.
In the Chicago suburb of Gurnee, Poor Richard’s Pub planned a fund-raiser tonight to help flood victims. The highlight of the party will be a boat raffle, said tavern owner Richard Diesterheft.