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Mississippi River flooding approaches records set in 1993

Associated Press logoAssociated Press 6/3/2019
Emily Kientzel empties the water out of her grandmother Joan FitzGerald's boot that filled with floodwater from the Mississippi River, as they check on the home of a friend outside of Portage des Sioux, Mo., Sunday, June 2, 2019. The pair are standing on the second story balcony of the home that has more than a foot of water in it. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP) © The Associated Press Emily Kientzel empties the water out of her grandmother Joan FitzGerald's boot that filled with floodwater from the Mississippi River, as they check on the home of a friend outside of Portage des Sioux, Mo., Sunday, June 2, 2019. The pair are standing on the second story balcony of the home that has more than a foot of water in it. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The swollen Mississippi River is straining levees, snarling traffic and forcing people from their homes as the water level in some places approaches record levels set during devastating flooding in 1993.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was touring flooded areas Monday in the northeast part of the state, where there have been around a dozen water rescues. Statewide, nearly 400 roads are closed, including part of U.S. 136.

Locks and dams upstream of St. Louis are shut down as the Mississippi River crests at the second-highest level on record in some communities. Midwestern rivers have flooded periodically since March, causing billions of dollars of damage to farmland, homes and businesses from Oklahoma and Arkansas and up to Michigan.

Residents, emergency responders and volunteers helping in recovery efforts are facing another challenge from swarms of mosquitoes drawn to standing water.

"Nuisance mosquitoes are usually the first populations to take advantage of flooded conditions," said Howard Pue, of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. "They can be big, really numerous and inflict painful bites."

Gary Stubblefield, a volunteer coordinator for recovery and cleanup efforts in the Joplin area, said the volunteers cleaning up after an EF-3 tornado struck parts of Carl Junction May 22 are asking for bug repellent contributions. Organizers have handed out hundreds of cans, and more is needed, Stubblefield said.

Near the 1,400-person town of Winfield, Missouri, a Mississippi River levee breached Sunday, forcing evacuations in a rural area, said Sue Casseau, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On Saturday, sandbags were intentionally removed from a farm levee along the Mississippi River near Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, to allow water through and remove pressure downstream. The Illinois River also overtopped levees that protect a combined 1,500 acres in western Illinois, she said.

"If water is over the field, no one is planting," Casseau said. "The full economic impact won't be known until the end of this planting and harvest season."

Parson's office said Monday 28 levee breaches have been reported across the state.

Floodgates also have been closed in St. Louis in advance of the Mississippi River cresting there Thursday. The high water already is causing problems. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that several hotels that were crowded with visitors for the Stanley Cup Final and Cardinals-Cubs baseball games were left without hot water Sunday after too much water overwhelmed a pump station.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Eric Brown said there also has been sandbagging in several towns and added that "one of the most impressive things is to see these communities come together."

In Lewis County, Missouri, the focus of much of the sandbagging, floodwaters from the Mississippi River surround the Mark Twain casino on three sides in the town of LaGrange, which isn't protected by a levee, said Sheriff David Parrish. People also are sandbagging around homes and the city hall there, as well as several other areas of the county. He said that one levee that protects the towns of Taylor and West Quincy is being shored up with 3,500 tons of rock.

"It is the second highest level by inches since '93," he said of the river.

The 1993 flood covered nine states and rivers reached record heights across the region. It lasted nearly 200 days in some areas and was responsible for about 50 deaths.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency Monday for Tuscola County after heavy rainfall last week caused widespread flooding. Whitmer earlier announced a state of emergency in Wayne County, which includes Detroit. Areas along Lake St. Clair and western Lake Erie also have been hit by flooding in recent weeks.

Vice President Mike Pence announced plans for a trip to Oklahoma on Tuesday to visit flood damage from the Arkansas River. Damage has extended from the Tulsa area downstream into Arkansas. The river is slowly cresting, with major flooding is expected to subside within a few weeks.

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Associated Press writers Adam Kealoha Causey in Oklahoma City and David Runk in Detroit contributed to this report.

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