Grain bins flooded

Two bins of grain succumb to rising floodwaters in southern Mills County, Iowa. Thousands of snow geese dot the water.

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Authorities were using boats and large vehicles March 16 to rescue and evacuate residents in parts of the Midwest where a recent deluge of rainwater and snowmelt was sent pouring over frozen ground, overwhelming creeks and rivers and killing at least one person.

The scramble to move people out of harm's way was expected to subside, as rivers and creeks crested Saturday and Sunday. That left officials downstream looking to prepare for likely flooding.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson had already met with emergency management team members March 15 to review and update flood-response plans, and the Missouri Highway Patrol was preparing additional equipment and putting swift water rescue personnel on standby.

The National Weather Service said the Missouri River at St. Joseph reached nearly 26 feet March 16, about a foot below what's considered major flooding at the northwest Missouri city. But it was expected to crest March 20-21 at 29.3 feet — more than 2 feet above major flooding level.

Evacuation efforts in eastern Nebraska and some spots in western Iowa on March 16 were hampered by reports of levee breaches and washouts of bridges and roads, including part of Nebraska Highway 92 leading in and out of southwest Omaha. Authorities confirmed that a bridge on that highway that crosses the Elkhorn River had been washed.

In Fremont, west of Omaha, the Dodge County Sheriff's Office issued a mandatory evacuation for some residents after floodwaters broke through a levee along the Platte River. And in Mills County, Iowa, authorities ordered people in some rural areas to evacuate after the Missouri River overtopped levees.

The flooding followed days of snow and rain — record-setting, in some places — that swept through the West and Midwest. The deluge pushed some waterways, including the Missouri River, to record levels in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. The flooding was the worst in nearly a decade in places.

The family of farmer James Wilke, 50, of Columbus, Nebraska, said he was killed March 14 when a bridge collapsed as he was using his tractor to try to reach stranded motorists. His body was found downstream, his cousin Paul Wilke told the Columbus Telegram. Gass Haney Funeral Home confirmed James Wilke's death.

At least two other people were missing in floodwaters in Nebraska. Officials said a Norfolk man was seen on top of his flooded car late March 14 before being swept away in the water and another man was swept away by waters when a dam collapsed on the Niobrara River.

Some cities and towns, such as North Bend on the banks of the Platte River, were submerged. Others, such as Waterloo and Fremont, were surrounded by floodwaters, stranding residents in virtual islands with no access in or out.

“There is no way out of here unless you've got a helicopter — or a boat,” the Rev. Mike Bitter, pastor of Christian Church of Waterloo, told the Omaha World-Herald.

Officials in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska were urging people not to drive unless necessary. In Iowa, a section of northbound Interstate 29 that runs parallel to the Missouri River was closed due to flooding. Authorities were rerouting motorists at Kansas City, Missouri, using a detour that took people almost 140 miles out of the way.

Farther east, the Mississippi River saw moderate flooding in Illinois from Rock Island south to Gladstone. Meteorologist Brian Pierce with the National Weather Service’s Quad Cities office in Davenport, Iowa, said flooding on the Mississippi could get worse in a few weeks as more snow melts in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“What we're having now is the dress rehearsal for the main event that's going to happen in early April,'' he said of the flooding on the Mississippi.

Rising waters along the Pecatonica and Rock rivers flooded some homes in the northern Illinois cities of Freeport, Rockford and Machesney Park. The National Weather Service said record crests were possible along the rivers, with water levels forecast to continue to rise over the next several days and remain above flood stage through most of the weekend.

Freeport resident Mary Martin told the (Freeport) Journal-Standard that she went to the store to get milk and bread when she saw floodwaters were rising March 14.

“Within an hour of going to the store, I could not get back in. That's how fast the water was coming up,” Martin said.