The Associated Press

VALLEY PARK, Mo. _ The Meramec River surged higher Thursday, threatening an interstate highway, and some residents driven from their homes for the third time in a year waited out the high water at a church shelter. They pondered their return to the flood plain.

"You wrap your lifetime around a house," said Jim Thayer, who has lived here since 1953. "But it's getting so expensive to rebuild that a lot of people are going to have to give up."

Midwestern rivers fattened on snowmelt and fed by days of spring rains flowed out of their banks this week, forcing people from their homes and reviving memories of last summer's devastating floods.

Flooding was blamed for four deaths in Missouri and one each in Illinois and Oklahoma.

Thayer and his neighbors, including Edna Krupp and her cat Puss, took shelter at Sacred Heart Church. They cheered when a television brought news that the weather service had downgraded its crest prediction for the Meramec.

Instead of cresting at 39 feet on Friday, it was forecast to top out at 38 feet Thursday _ 22 feet above flood stage.

It's already forced about 1,000 people _ one fourth of the town _ from their homes and threatened to sweep over Interstate 44, which slices diagonally across the state from Springfield northeast to St. Louis.

In Southern Illinois, several families were plucked to safety by helicopter after the Mississippi River pushed through a levee near Miller City. Hours earlier, crews had finished adding 10 feet to the levee to reinforce it.

"We're losing ground quick," levee commissioner Greg Patton said. "Not anything much we can do. Just move out."

In historic Prairie du Rocher in southwestern Illinois, residents piled sandbags atop a levee holding back the Kaskaskia River.

The retreating Embarras River left a slimy brown mixture of mud, water, gasoline and oil coating the streets of Villa Grove in east-central Illinois.

More than half the town's 1,000 homes were flooded, and the water supply tainted. On Main Street, residents filled jugs from a 1,200-gallon tank of drinking water perched on a trailer.

Illinois officials called up 150 members of the National Guard and 1,000 were on standby.

In Oklahoma, the Neosho River crested more than 10 feet above flood stage Wednesday at Miami, forcing the evacuation of about 200 families.

Down the Mississippi at Vicksburg, Miss., the floodgates on Steele Bayou will be closed this weekend to protect the area, flooding 230,000 acres of delta farmland, said Jim Wanamaker, chief engineer for the state Levee Board.

Heavy rain throughout the Ohio River basin and snowmelt to the north fed the steady rise of the Mississippi, he said.

Heavy rain was forecast overnight in the Mississippi Valley. Read Next Article