By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH and JIM SALTER
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rain swamping the country’s midsection forced people from their homes in Kansas, stranded dozens of Texas children at school overnight, strained levees along the surging Mississippi River in Illinois, Missouri and elsewhere Wednesday and prompted yet more flash-flood concerns.
The flooding began in earnest in March, causing billions of dollars of damage to farmland, homes and businesses throughout the Midwest. Rivers in many places have been above flood stage for more than six weeks following waves of heavy rain.
Some parts of Kansas received up to 10 inches from Tuesday until Wednesday morning, said Kelly Butler, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita. She described that as a “ridiculous amount of water.” Several Kansas districts canceled classes, and numerous water rescues were reported.
Emergency management officials began evacuating homes near the Kansas college town of Manhattan around 5 a.m. Wednesday as Wildcat Creek overflowed its banks. The Cottonwood River spilled over in Marion County, prompting more evacuations and the surging Slate Creek also forced people from their homes in Wellington and closed a stretch of the Kansas Turnpike near the Oklahoma border.
“It seemed like our poor fire department folks were going out constantly overnight, whether it was sandbagging, barricading streets or assisting citizens,” said Keri Korthals, the emergency management director in Butler County, where crews rescued around a dozen people from vehicles stuck in rising water from the Walnut and Whitewater rivers.
Flash-flood watches also are in effect in Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and there were flood warnings along the Mississippi River.
The national Storm Prediction Center said rain remained in the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday in the Central Plains and Mississippi Valley, which could cause more trouble because the soil there is so saturated.
Although the river was slowly going down from St. Louis and to the north, it continued rising in southern Missouri and southern Illinois. The Mississippi was nearing an expected 44-foot crest in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, 12 feet above the technical flood stage. A concrete floodwall there protects the historic downtown, but low-lying areas of Cape Girardeau and neighboring communities were underwater.
The Illinois River remained nearly 10 feet above flood stage at Peoria, Illinois, where sandbags were helping to fortify downtown. One big concern in Peoria and other Illinois River towns was that the water level is expected to remain extraordinarily high into next week.
Other parts of the country also were dealing with flooding.
In Texas, about 60 students spent the night at an elementary school near Houston after flooded roads prevented buses from leaving and parents from reaching the school. The flash flooding occurred after as many as 10 inches of rain swamped the area Tuesday.
Buildings and roads were flooded along the St. Clair River in Algonac, Michigan. The river links Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair, and flooding is possible along those lakes as well as the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.
A school bus became stranded as it carried students to school Wednesday morning near El Reno, about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City. Firefighters said the bus driver was trying to avoid high water on the road and got stuck on a verge while attempting to turn around. Students were picked up by another vehicle and taken to school.