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US Midwest Continues Battle Against Floods - 2002-05-17

Communities in several Midwest U.S. states are fighting floods this month. Several rivers have overflowed their banks in the states of Illinois, Indiana and Missouri because of heavier than usual spring rains.

In western Illinois, the Sangamon and Illinois Rivers come together at the small town of Beardstown. Chris Tamminga at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency says officials are watching the rising waters closely.

"In Beardstown, we feel fairly optimistic," he said. "They do have a seawall there and at 9.4 meters, which is what the crest is supposed to be on Monday, the seawall can withstand up to a 10.7-meter crest."

The local emergency services coordinator, Roger Lauder, says a small army of people will be out Saturday to add to the top of the town's floodwall, just in case.

"There will be 150 people, at least that is what we are planning on feeding tomorrow," he said. "That includes 56 inmates, some IDOT [Illinois Department of Transportation] workers, a lot of our county people, and all the drainage commissioners and neighbors and friends will be in that fight tomorrow to raise that levee up to safer levels."

A few kilometers up the Sangamon River in Chandlerville, water levels started dropping a bit Friday. Mr. Lauder says that is good news for the town, which has been partly flooded since Wednesday night. But, the high water might be to blame for one home lost on Friday.

"The tragedy to our story here in Chandlerville is that one of the councilmen who had been working around the clock to help fight this flood and worked all night last night, at six o'clock this morning, his home burned," he said.

An eight-year-old Illinois boy died in the flood on Thursday. He was playing in a boat behind his family's home when the boat drifted into a tributary of the Illinois River. Officials say the boy got nervous, jumped out of the boat and drowned in about two meters of water.

Illinois' governor has declared the entire state a disaster area because of heavy rainfall and flooding this month. The flooding means farmers in some parts of the state will have to delay planting or replant corn and other crops.

In neighboring Missouri, recent flooding resulted in eight deaths. Officials there say half the state's counties have sustained some sort of flood damage.

And in Indiana, the governor says flooding in the state's central and southern regions could reach record levels. A few dozen families have been evacuated from homes in low-lying areas.

The U.S. Coast Guard says it might soon have to close the Mississippi River to barge traffic in southern Illinois and Missouri, if the waters continue to rise.