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16 dead as Midwesterners eye rising rivers; snow cancels hundreds of flights at OHare
Severe Weather MODG 5273817
Flood waters from the Black River is seen south of Poplar Bluff, Mo., on Friday, March 21, 2008. The Coon Island levee near Poplar Bluff, Mo., broke around noon Thursday, and authorities were preparing to conduct water rescues if necessary. - photo by Associated Press
    FENTON, Mo. — Flood-weary Midwesterners fought Friday to save their homes and businesses from rivers spilling over their banks after rainstorms blamed for at least 16 deaths moved through the region.
    Thousands of people from Arkansas through Ohio were staying in shelters or with relatives as flood waters lapped against their homes.
    Major Byron Medloch of the Salvation Army said Friday that 1,000 people displaced by the Meramec River in eastern Missouri were housed in shelters. Another 1,000 were in shelters near Poplar Bluff in far southeast Missouri, where the surging Black River breached several levees.
    ‘‘People are tired,’’ Medloch said. ‘‘Tired of fighting and tired of waiting. They’re just frustrated because they can’t get back into their homes.’’
    To the north, a fresh snowstorm blew through Minnesota and Wisconsin and into the Chicago area, and forecasters said the storm could leave as much as 9 inches of heavy snow in the region. About 350 flights were canceled and numerous others were delayed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
    A blizzard warning remained in effect in northern Maine, where fierce winds had already scattered a foot or more of snow.
    ‘‘Even though it was spring yesterday, we still have winter on our doorstep,’’ spokeswoman Ginny Joles of Maine Public Service Co., northern Maine’s major electric company, said Friday.
    Thursday, the first day of spring, brought much-needed sunshine to some flooded communities, but many swelling rivers were not expected to crest until the weekend in Arkansas, Missouri, southern Illinois, southern Indiana and Kentucky.
    The worst flooding happened in smaller rivers across the nation’s midsection. Major channels such as the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers saw only minor flooding.
    In Fenton, a St. Louis suburb, Jeff Rogles joined dozens of volunteers to fill sandbags and pile them against downtown businesses near the fast-rising Meramec River, which was expected to reach more than 20 feet above flood stage in some spots.
    ‘‘I think we have enough volunteers out here to stave off disaster,’’ said Rogles, 27, who joined the effort because he remembered the devastating Great Flood of 1993.
    Parts of Missouri got a foot of rain over a 36-hour period this week, causing widespread flash flooding and swelling many rivers. Police in Pacific, Mo., went door-to-door evacuating about 50 homes in low-lying areas.
    In southwest Indiana, Todd Ferguson has spent most of the week building a sandbag wall around his sister-in-law’s Evansville home. Pigeon Creek normally flows about 200 yards from Valerie Ferguson’s house, but the water had crept to within 10 feet and was not expected to crest until Sunday.
    In 2006, the Fergusons piled more than 1,000 sandbags around their home and still sustained about $1,000 in damage. This time, they don’t have help from Valerie’s husband, Tim, who is serving in Iraq with the Indiana National Guard.
    ‘‘We won two years ago, but I don’t know if we’re going to win this one,’’ Todd Ferguson said. ‘‘Only time will tell, I guess.’’
    In the tiny community of Edgewater, Ohio, relatives helped Judy Lambert move out of her double-wide mobile home. Her detached garage had a foot of water in it from the flooding Great Miami River.
    ‘‘We’re getting all the valuables out and trying to salvage what we can,’’ said Lambert’s son, Sean, 34. The flood is ‘‘knocking at the back door.’’
    Rivers receded Friday in Ohio, however, but several areas were still under flood warnings. About 70 state roads were closed or partly blocked by flooding; crews were trying to pump water off a major route into Columbus, according to the State Highway Patrol.
    At least 16 deaths have been linked to the weather over the past few days, and at least two people were missing.
    Searchers in Texas recovered the body of a teenager from waist-deep water Thursday; the boy had been washed down a drainage pipe. Two people in Arkansas whose vehicles were swept away by rushing water Tuesday were still missing.
    Government forecasters warned that some flooding could continue in the coming days because of record rainfall and melting snow packs across much of the Midwest and Northeast.
    Associated Press writers Betsy Taylor in St. Louis, Cheryl Wittenauer in Valley Park, Mo., Chuck Bartels in Batesville, Ark., Tom Murphy in Indianapolis, Glenn Adams in Augusta, Me., and Dan Sewell and Terry Kinney in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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