From: Reuters
Published March 21, 2008 01:20 PM

Floods sweep central U.S.

By Ros Krasny

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Swollen rivers flooded parts of the central United States on Friday and threatened to engulf a major interstate highway in Missouri, after violent rainstorms caused at least 16 deaths, according to reports on Friday.

Further north, a winter of severe weather stretched into the second day of spring as a storm bore down on the Midwest, dropping heavy snow and delaying flights.

Many rivers were swollen beyond their banks, leaving houses under water, from parts of Texas north to Ohio after inundating rains this week -- in some cases on the heels of record snowstorms earlier in the month that left soils saturated.

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Reports across the region said some 16 people had died, either swept away by rushing waters or in traffic accidents blamed on the heavy storms.

Traffic was being held to one lane on Interstate 44 west of St Louis, as workers frantically sandbagged against advancing waters on the Meramec River in Fenton, Missouri.

"This could rival and in some places top the flood of 1982," said Jeff Ranieri, forecaster at NBC's weatherplus.com, speaking from Fenton.

I-44 tracks the path of the legendary Route 66, running southwest from St. Louis southwest to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The Missouri Department of Transportation showed dozens of roads closed by floods across the southern one-third of the state. Parts of the state received upwards of 10 inches of rain this week.

Skies are expected to be mostly clear for the next few days, providing relief to parts of the region. But rivers flowing northeast toward St. Louis are not expected to peak until late on Friday or Saturday.

At Eureka, Missouri, the Meramec was forecast to crest at 42.8 feet, just below the 42.9 feet reached in 1982, according to the National Weather Service.

To the north, a heavy late-season snowstorm was hitting the upper Midwest, cutting a swathe from North Dakota southeast to Indiana and Ohio.

Southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois braced for 6 to 12 inches of snow by Saturday.

Flights at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were already subject to lengthy ground delays, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's Web site. Some flights arriving at O'Hare were being delayed by more than three hours.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

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