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Dec 31, 2015 12:24 AM

Latest: Officials prepare to close I-55 south of St. Louis

The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) The latest developments on flooding in the Midwest (all times local):

7:45 p.m.

Officials are preparing for the possible closure of a major interstate highway south of St. Louis amid historic flooding.

The Missouri Department of Transportation said Wednesday night that I-55 at the Meramec River near Arnold could close overnight or Thursday. An aggressive sandbagging operation was underway to keep the lanes open. Other connections between St. Louis and Jefferson counties already are closed, including I-44 over the river.


6:55 p.m.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that flood water from the Mississippi River and its tributaries has spilled over nine federal levees in the St. Louis area.

Forecast maps released Wednesday afternoon show reduced flooding risks at another 10 area levees deemed vulnerable one day previously. Corps spokesman Rene Poche says that most of the overtopped levees protect primarily agricultural areas.

Eleven levees still face "possible significant distress," including one in Valley Park, Missouri. The St. Louis suburb has ordered mandatory evacuations of hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses near the rising Meramec River.

Poche said that "no one is in imminent danger" if the Valley Park levee spills over. He and other Corps officials also emphasized that the affected levees were not breached.


6 p.m.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet plans to close U.S. 51 at two locations in western Kentucky in response to flooding forecasts.

The cabinet said waters are rising more quickly, and both the U.S. 51 Ohio River "Cairo" Bridge and U.S. 51 south of Wickliffe near the Ballard-Carlisle county line will close at midnight Wednesday.

The cabinet said in a news release that levels at which the road is required to close are expected to be exceeded during the overnight hours.

Spokesman Keith Todd of District 1 said closing at midnight will allow Highway Department workers to barricade the roadway. Closure at the two sites is expected to last at least a week.

Todd said in the release that millings will be placed around the barricades to keep them from being moved.


5:30 p.m.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is returning early from a vacation outside the U.S. to visit areas damaged by floods and thank volunteers.

Rauner's office said Wednesday the governor will be in Springfield on Thursday night. He will spend the next several days in central and southern Illinois, where severe weather has led to flooding and seven deaths.

Rauner left the country sometime during the weekend of Dec. 19 -20 to spend the holidays with his family. His office wouldn't say where he was or the reason they were keeping his whereabouts secret.

He had been scheduled to return to Illinois on Sunday.

Rauner spokesman Lance Trover says the governor plans to tour areas dealing with severe weather and ensure "that communities have everything they need."

Rauner on Tuesday issued a disaster proclamation for seven counties, where about 7 inches of rain fell between Dec. 23 and 28.


4:25 p.m.

President Barack Obama is pledging the federal government's continued help dealing with severe weather in a phone call with Missouri's governor.

Obama spoke to Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday while the president was vacationing in Hawaii. The White House says Obama thanked Nixon for his efforts and offered condolences for those who have died in the flooding.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz says Obama told Nixon that he had asked his staff to monitor the events closely and to work with Nixon's team to provide any help necessary from the federal government.

Fourteen Missouri deaths have been blamed on the devastating flooding since last Friday.


4:10 p.m.

Severe flooding is forcing the closure of three historic sites in Illinois.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency said Wednesday that Fort de Chartres, Fort Kaskaskia and Pierre Menard Home have been temporarily shut down because rising water made the sites and nearby roads unsafe. All three sites are in Randolph County, about 40 miles south of St. Louis.

Volunteers are clearing the Forte de Chartres, the re-creation of a fort built by the French military in the 1750s. It was declared a national historic landmark in 1960.


2:10 p.m.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says he's optimistic the eastern and southern portions of the state will soon recover from devastating flooding but cautions "we're not over this."

Nixon toured flooded areas near the St. Louis-area community of Pacific on Wednesday afternoon. That came just hours before the Meramec River's scheduled crest at more than 18 feet above flood stage, just short of a 1982 record.

Fourteen Missouri deaths have been blamed on the flooding since last Friday, none of them in Pacific.

Nixon noted that river crests elsewhere were occurring or expected within days, and that with no rain in the immediate forecast he hope the subsiding of the rivers goes quickly.

Nixon promised tight security at places where there have been evacuations, including in Pacific and in nearby Valley Park. And he's unaware of any reports of looting.


1:15 p.m.

A leftover film set used in the 2003 remake of "Where the Red Fern Grows" has been destroyed by severe flooding in northeastern Oklahoma.

A barn and a cabin built on property owned by Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission administrator Ed Fite was washed away, and pieces of the oak structures are scattered in tree lines and pastures.

The original 1974 film based on the classic Wilson Rawls children's novel was also shot on Fite's property. After filming wrapped up on the remake, Fite says he convinced filmmakers to leave the buildings behind.

Fite estimated Wednesday that thousands of tourists, college students and vacationers have visited the iconic site.

The severe rains and flooding are blamed for at least five deaths and more than 100 injuries in Oklahoma.


1 p.m.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it is not planning to open a southeastern Missouri floodway in response to the swollen Mississippi River - at least not yet.

The corps put the floodway near Charleston, Missouri, to use in 2011, blasting holes in the Birds Point levee to displace enough water to save nearby Cairo, Illinois, from a potentially devastating flood.

Cairo is at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. In 2011, the Ohio there crested a record 22 feet above flood stage before the floodway was thrust into use, swamping 130,000 acres. Several Missouri homes were destroyed.

But the corps says the crest at Cairo would need to reach 20 feet above flood stage. And as of midday Wednesday, the river was expected to peak a foot below that late Sunday or early Monday.


12:40 p.m.

Business owners in the historic riverfront city of Alton, Illinois, are scrambling to keep out rising water from the Mississippi River.

Most of the damage by Wednesday afternoon was confined to high water in some downtown basements. City firefighters worked to unclog flooded storm drains behind a seven-foot-high, 1,000-foot-long temporary retaining wall reinforced by gravel and sandbags.

The Argosy Alton casino remains closed, as does the southbound lane of the main highway connecting the city to Missouri.

Alton Mayor Brant Walker said he's "very optimistic that what we've built here will hold" as the Mississippi River is expected to crest at 38 feet on Thursday, 17 feet above flood stage.


12:15 p.m.

Authorities have confirmed a 14th Missouri flooding victim.

The latest victim was found Wednesday in Crawford County. Missouri Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike O'Connell says the victim died when a vehicle was swept off a roadway. The name of the victim wasn't immediately released.

All but one of the Missouri victims have died when their vehicles drove into flooded roadways.

Searches for missing people also are underway in Polk and Vernon counties.


11:55 a.m.

Major rivers in flood-prone areas of Missouri and Illinois are creeping toward milestone or near-record crests.

Forecasters said the Mississippi River in St. Louis is expected to crest Thursday evening at 13 feet above flood stage - six feet below the 1993 record.

In Chester, Illinois, about 60 miles south of St. Louis, the river is expected to reach a near-record 20 feet above flood stage on New Year's Day.

Record crests of the Meramec River near the flood-prone St. Louis suburbs of Arnold and Valley Park were expected Thursday or early Friday.


11:50 a.m.

Leaders in the central Illinois village of Kincaid say flood waters have significantly damaged 30 to 40 homes.

Kincaid Village Foreman Pat Durbin tells the Taylorville Daily Breeze-Courier (http://bit.ly/1nsYroS ) that most of the water in the area is more than 8 feet deep.

The National Weather Service says the three-day rain total in Kincaid was more than 6 inches as of Wednesday morning.

Durbin says most residents in the affected area left and he isn't aware of any injuries. He says authorities went door-to-door and "got everybody out that we could."

Christian County Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Crews says an American Red Cross temporary shelter is available at a high school.

Kincaid is about 25 miles southeast of Springfield and near the South Fork River.


11:30 a.m.

Floodwaters have limited access in and out of the St. Louis suburb of Valley Park.

The community of about 7,000 residents sits along the fast-rising Meramec River, which is expected to crest Thursday more than 3 feet above its previous record of 40 feet.

Mayor Michael Pennise ordered residents in one part of town to evacuate by 10 a.m. Wednesday.

He said that the U.S. Army Corps of engineers say they're confident that the levee built in 2007 will hold, but that the evacuations were done as a precaution.

John Anderson, a Valley Park resident, cleared out his apartment building of precious item, including photos.

City attorney Tim Englemeyer asked the governor's office to send National Guard troops to help with security.


9:55 a.m.

Crews in northern Oklahoma have begun their third day of searching for a country music singer from Arkansas who disappeared Sunday while duck hunting with a friend in severe weather.

Craig Strickland went missing after going duck hunting with his friend, Chase Morland, on Oklahoma's Kaw Lake. Search teams found the pair's capsized boat Sunday along with Strickland's dog, which was alive. Morland's body was recovered Monday.

Strickland is the lead singer of the Arkansas-based country-rock band Backroad Anthem. The band had been scheduled to perform Thursday in Little Rock, Arkansas, but that show has been canceled.

Crews searched Monday and Tuesday for Strickland but suspended the search at nightfall. The search picked back up Wednesday morning on Kaw Lake, which is 38 miles long and is near Oklahoma's border with Kansas.


9:45 a.m.

Some traffic on Interstate 44 in central Missouri is moving again, but a stretch near St. Louis is still closed because of flooding.

The Missouri State Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that eastbound lanes reopened in Phelps County near Rolla, but westbound traffic remains closed.

A 24-mile stretch of Interstate 44 southwest of St. Louis was shut down late Tuesday in both directions and is expected to remain closed for several days, perhaps through Friday. Water from the Meramec River is flooding the highway at Valley Park.

Transportation officials are urging motorists to use Interstate 70 for east-west travel.

Hundreds of other road closures are occurring throughout the Midwest due to record and near-record flooding spurred by heavy rains in recent days.


9:05 a.m.

A rain-swollen lake near the tourist community of Branson, Missouri, has forced residents of 55 duplexes and about 100 single-family homes to be evacuated.

Branson Fire Chief Ted Martin says Lake Taneycomo is at fault and that there have been no injuries from the flooding, which has also closed three parks and a city-owned lakeside campground.

Branson's popular Landing shopping district along the lake was open Wednesday, though floodwaters swamped lower areas of parking and storage.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is easing water levels at a record flow around the Table Rock Lake dam, which feeds into man-made Lake Taneycomo and is contributing to the flooding.


8:05 a.m.

Volunteers are resuming a search for a missing motorist in southwest Missouri.

Pleasant Hope emergency management director Rick Davis says the man disappeared Saturday night as he prepared to cross a bridge over the Pomme de Terre River in Polk County. Guardrails kept the man's vehicle from washing away.

Davis says volunteer firefighters searched from Sunday through Tuesday, and others are taking over the search Wednesday.

Davis says the river is normally 60 to 70 feet wide, but is now a mile wide in some spots. He says some debris piles are two stories high.

He says that, "Nobody that is living has ever seen anything like this."


7:45 a.m.

The mayor of the St. Louis suburb of Valley Park is ordering mandatory evacuations for a portion of the town of about 6,900 residents as the fast-rising Meramec River threatens a levee.

Mayor Michael Pennise ordered the evacuations early Wednesday. Many people had already left that area but those who didn't were told to evacuate by 10 a.m. Wednesday.

The National Weather Service is projecting that the Meramec River will reach record heights at Valley Park, around 30 feet above flood stage, late Wednesday. Pennise says the Corps of Engineers is confident the levee will hold up, and no signs of a breach have been found.

The Meramec is expected to shatter flood records at Valley Park and several other towns.


7:35 a.m.

Interstate 44 is closed in multiple locations in Missouri because of flooding.

The Missouri Department of Transportation says the closures include westbound and eastbound stretches of the interstate in central Missouri's Phelps County and in the St. Louis area.

Transportation officials say drivers using detour routes should expect delays and longer travel times.

The interstate has been closed off and on since Monday in Phelps County.


6:55 a.m.

Two central Illinois residents have drowned in floodwaters, raising the state's death toll since the weekend to seven.

Also, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued a disaster proclamation for seven counties.

Christian County officials say a man and a woman were found Tuesday morning in floodwaters about 6 miles east of Edinburg. Officials say it appears they were trying to cross a flooded area. Police used cellphone location services to find them, but their minivan is still missing.

The Christian County Coroner's Office told the (Springfield) State Journal-Register (http://bit.ly/1YO7Mha ) that both died of drowning.

Rauner issued the disaster proclamation Tuesday afternoon for Calhoun, Jackson, Jersey, Madison, Monroe, Randolph and St. Clair counties. The National Weather Service says those counties saw about 7 inches of rain Dec. 23-28.


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