ST. LOUIS (AP) — Tropical Depression Bill dumped up to 7 inches of rain on the Ozarks in southern Missouri overnight, causing flash floods that forced the evacuation of some towns and campgrounds and increasing the risk of major flooding along several rivers.
The system that came ashore Tuesday along the Texas Gulf Coast, slowly made its way north into northern Arkansas and southern Missouri on Friday. The timing was unfortunate: The region has been swamped by heavy rain for several days, and Bill only made things worse.
“We had some ridiculous rainfall totals,” said Mike Griffin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Springfield, Missouri.
How much? Some areas near Springfield received 5 inches to 7 inches of rain between sunset Thursday and sunrise Friday — and it continued to come down. Parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana got up to 4 inches of rain.
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And the downpours were set to continue. As the storm pushes eastward, “it’s slowly weakening and losing its punch. But it’s still going to cause a lot of rain,” Griffin said.
Flash floods were common. In Steelville, Missouri, a mobile home park was evacuated along the normally docile Yadkin Creek. Crawford County emergency management coordinator Lesa Mizell said the creek is usually about 1 foot deep. At 5 a.m. Friday, “it looked like a roaring river,” she said.
In nearby Laclede County, several popular campgrounds along the Gasconade River were evacuated as the waterway quickly rose. Emergency coordinator Randy Rowe said one driver had to be rescued when a flash flood swept his car off the road.
Flood waters lapped at the Cuivre River bridge near Troy, Missouri, 50 miles north of St. Louis, by midday Friday, forcing the temporary closure of U.S. 61. Hours earlier, firefighters rescued three people trapped in a home alongside the flooding river, and saved three others from vehicles submerged in flood waters.
Record flooding was forecast along the James River near Springfield. The river was at 5 feet Thursday evening — and 22.2 feet Friday afternoon, two-tenths of a foot above the previous high-water mark set in 1909. The good news was that few, if any, homes were likely to be flooded.
The weather service projects major flooding on the Mississippi River from just south of St. Louis, down through the Missouri Bootheel. The Army Corps of Engineers dispatched flood-fighting teams to southeast Missouri and southern Illinois to watch for levee trouble and to aid communities.
Buyouts since the 1993 flood have removed most homes from harm’s way, but scattered evacuations are likely along the Mississippi.
Phil Thompson, who lives in tiny Allenville in southeast Missouri, said some of his neighbors have evacuated with the river rising. Not him.
“There’s always some of us that stay, just to guard the town,” Thompson said.
Allenville, with about 100 residents, sits high enough to be safe, but roads leading to town are in danger of flooding.
“In 1993 and 1995 we were an island for six weeks each,” Thompson said. “It just cuts our roads off — we can’t get in or out.”
In central Illinois, the Illinois River was about 10 feet above flood stage in Havana and Beardstown. Sandbagging operations were underway in several towns in northwest Indiana, including threatened subdivisions along the Kankakee River.
Rains drenched much of Indiana on Friday. Forecasters predicted up to 5 inches of rain could fall through Sunday. By midday, Bloomington had already received more than 2 inches of rain.
Some residents voluntarily evacuated their mobile homes at a park in Rensselaer, Indiana, near the Iroquois River. That river reached a record high this week, and authorities were concerned that more rain could cause the water level to rise yet more.
At least one death is blamed on Bill’s slow trek across the country. A 2-year-old boy was swept from his father’s arms Thursday as they tried to escape a flash flood at Hickory Creek in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Jeremiah Mayer’s body was found about 30 yards from that spot.
Further north, near Macomb, Oklahoma, authorities on Thursday evening recovered the body of an 80-year-old woman from a car partially submerged in floodwaters, Pottawatomie County Undersheriff Travis Palmer told the Shawnee News-Star. Her official cause of death has not yet been determined.
Associated Press writers Claudia Lauer and Allen Reed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Justin Juozapavicius in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.