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Rain keeps adding to Midwest flood woes

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

PEORIA HEIGHTS, Ill. — More rain on Tuesday was the last thing flood fighters across the Midwest wanted to see, adding more water to swollen rivers now expected to remain high into next month.

Floodwaters were rising to record levels along the Illinois River in central Illinois. In Missouri, six small levees north of St. Louis were overtopped by the surging Mississippi River, though mostly farmland was affected.

The Mississippi and Illinois rivers have crested in some places, but that doesn't mean the danger is over. The National Weather Service predicts a very slow descent, thanks in part to the additional rain expected to amount to an inch or so across several Midwestern states.

“The longer the crest, definitely, the more strain there is on the levee,” said Mike Petersen, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in St. Louis.

The biggest problem areas were in Illinois, on the Illinois River. In Peoria Heights, population 6,700, roads and buildings were flooded and riverfront structures were inundated. Firefighters feared that if fuel from businesses and vehicles starts to leak, it could spark a fire in areas that could be reached only by boat.

“That's our nightmare: A building burns and we can't get to it,” said Peoria Heights fire Chief Greg Walters. “These are combustible buildings and we have no access to them simply because of the flooding.”

About 20 to 30 homes and businesses near the river have been evacuated, he said.

Among those still in their homes was Mark Reatherford, a 52-year-old unemployed baker. He's lived for decades in the same split-level home with a gorgeous view: a small park between him and the Illinois River.

As a chilly rain continued falling, the river had rolled over the park and made it to Reatherford's home, making a 3-foot-deep mess in the basement. Reatherford had cleared out the basement furniture and was hopeful the main floor would stay dry.

Now, he's considering moving.

“You can't get a better view than what we've got here,” he said. “The sun comes up over the river, moon comes up ... and now you've got this. I'm getting too old to deal with this.”

In downtown Peoria, thousands of white and yellow sandbags stacked 3 feet high lined blocks of the city's scenic riverfront, holding back floodwaters that already had surrounded the visitors' center and the 114-year-old former train depot that lately has housed restaurants. Across the street, smaller sandbag walls blocked off riverside pedestrian access to Caterpillar's headquarters and the city's museum.

Meanwhile, shipping resumed Tuesday on a 15-mile stretch of the Mississippi near St. Louis as the Coast Guard determined that 11 barges that sank last weekend are not a hazard to navigation.

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