Rivers Still Rising in Midwest; Evacuations Continue

February 23, 2018

Shelters have been opened to assist people forced from their homes by flooding in the Midwest, as rivers swollen by heavy rain and melting snow continue to rise in Indiana, Michigan and other states.

Flood warnings were in effect across a wide swath of the central and southern U.S., from Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio to Texas and Louisiana. The American Red Cross said it has opened eight shelters in northern Indiana, where crews used boats to help residents evacuate their homes.

In Elkhart and nearby Goshen, local officials declared a state of emergency and asked that traffic be limited to first responders and emergency personnel. Indiana University-South Bend canceled Thursday classes, and residents of a student apartment complex were encouraged to leave.

“I ended up grabbing my favorite blanket and stuffed animals,” 15-year-old Madison Schmidt, who was evacuated from her home in Elkhart to a shelter at a church, told The Elkhart Truth newspaper. “I got into the boat. Seeing what happened, just almost made me cry.”

Other parts of the Midwest were under winter weather advisories on Thursday, with Kansas school districts and universities canceling classes and many state employees being told to stay home.

In Michigan, states of emergency were declared in the Lansing area as officials recommended the evacuations of several neighborhoods. City officials said anyone living in the possible flood areas should temporarily leave their home by midday Thursday.

“While the rain has stopped, we are expecting significant flooding,” Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said.

Flooding also hit nearby Michigan State University, where some roads, parking lots and athletic fields were covered by water from the Red Cedar River that runs through its East Lansing campus. Classes in several buildings have been relocated and the school put up sand-filled barriers in an attempt to curb flooding.

“Be careful if you’re trying to come to campus,” Schor said Wednesday, noting that the river was at its highest levels since 1975. “Changing conditions are affecting not only the roads but sidewalks and walkways.”

The National Weather Service predicted the Grand River in Lansing would crest by late Thursday at 14.6 feet (4.5 meters), nearly 3 feet (1 meter) above flood stage. The Red Cedar River was forecast to crest at 10.3 feet (3.14 meters).

The storm system started pushing heavy rain, snow and ice into the region this week, affecting roads and other low-lying areas. The weather was been blamed for hundreds of car crashes and several deaths, including a crash that killed four people along a slippery interstate in Nebraska.

In central Michigan’s Fairplain Township, a 1-year-old girl was found dead Wednesday in standing water from rains and snowmelt in her backyard. In Oklahoma, authorities said 53-year-old Victor French of Stilwell drowned Wednesday when he drove onto a flooded bridge near Stilwell and was swept off the roadway.

Homes and streets also were flooded in the South Bend area of Indiana, and forecasters predicted that the swollen St. Joseph River wouldn’t crest until Thursday. Firefighters in Lake Station, Indiana, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Chicago, evacuated some residents Wednesday after 15 to 20 homes were surrounded by about 2 to 3 feet of water.

In Illinois, authorities issued an evacuation order Wednesday for residents in the city of Marseilles who live near the Illinois River. Fear of the rising river also prompted the evacuation of a nursing home in Ottawa.

Two days of rain in southern Wisconsin swelled waterways, leading to a handful of high-water rescues for people stranded in their vehicles. And in Iowa, the Wapsipinicon River topped flood stage, causing what was described as moderate flooding.

A utility says flooding along the St. Joseph River in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana has left hundreds of electrical customers without power.

Indiana Michigan Power says it’s working with local officials and first responders to safely disconnect power to customers in flooded areas. About 300 of its Indiana customers and about 250 Michigan customers were without power.

The heavy rain and snowmelt have increased water at six hydroelectric dams that Indiana Michigan Power operates along the river. The utility say the dams are operating as designed, with the Buchanan Hydro Plant in Michigan near capacity.

Indiana Michigan Power says it will be monitoring water levels at its dams around the clock in the coming days.