Floods force evacuations in Ohio Valley, Missouri

ST. LOUIS, Mo Mon Apr 25, 2011 6:13pm EDT

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ST. LOUIS, Mo (Reuters) - The National Weather Service warned on Monday of the imminent failure of a levee on the Black River in southeast Missouri, prompting a mandatory evacuation of about 1,000 people in Poplar Bluff.

Water is topping the levee at several points, which may lead to a failure of the levee system between Poplar Bluff and the town of Qulin, the weather service said.

County officials have evacuated about 500 structures in the southeastern part of Poplar Bluff, which has about 17,000 residents.

Flood warnings have prompted evacuations of hundreds of people in Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri, following days of rain that led to rivers cresting over the flood stage, according to forecasters.

"The ground is very saturated -- there are areas with 9-10 inches of rain," said Mike O'Connell, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety. He noted that some local roads are flooded in southern Missouri, and drivers are being warned not to go past barriers.

Governor Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard on Monday to help in areas hit by flooding.

He also criticized U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to intentionally breach Birds Point levee along the Mississippi River in southeastern Missouri.

Nixon said that would affect hundreds of families and "pour a tremendous amount of water into 130,000 acres of prime farmland."

A spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers was not immediately available for comment.

The Black River is expected to rise higher than it did in 2008 when heavy rains caused widespread flooding, according to the National Weather Service in Little Rock. Portions of Davidsonville Historic State Park and Powhatan Historic State Park in northwest Arkansas are closed due to the rising of the river.

Many schools in northeastern Arkansas also closed Monday because of flooding.

Parts of Utica in southern Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky, have flooding, according to Mike Callahan, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville.

"This is the worst flooding we've had since 1997," he said.

He said more flooding was reported in western Kentucky and southern Illinois. People who live along the Ohio River near Louisville started leaving their homes ahead of the flood late last week, and some roads around the city were closed, he said.

Bill Davis, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, Missouri, expects problems to be especially bad along the Taneycomo River in southwest Missouri.

"It's only (going) to get worse over the next couple of days," said Davis. "There's going to be more water on top of water."

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Susan Guyett and Suzi Parker; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)

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