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Ike Renews Flood Fears In Midwest

Just a few months after near-record flooding in the Midwest, authorities in towns along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers fear a soggy repeat following heavy rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ike.

"The old-timers knew it was wise to leave the sandbags," said Arnold City Manager Matthew Unrein, whose town built makeshift sandbag walls when it was threatened by floods in March.

The National Weather Service is projecting moderate flooding from Hannibal south to the convergence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Major flooding is expected from St. Louis south to Cape Girardeau, though thanks to levees and buyouts, few homes are expected to be affected.

Ike dumped as much as 6 to 8 inches of rain on parts of Indiana, Illinois and Missouri after coming ashore over the weekend. It spawned a tornado in Arkansas that damaged several buildings, and delivered hurricane-force wind to Ohio, temporarily shutting down Cincinnati's main airport during the weekend.

The devastating rains and winds in the Midwest brought Ike's total death toll to at least 40 in 10 states from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley.

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush said Tuesday that people displaced by Hurricane Ike need to listen to local officials before returning home. The president's comments came as he toured areas of Texas damaged by the hurricane. He asked Americans to donate to the recovery effort, and warned against "disaster fatigue" in the nation.

The Missouri River is expected to rise well above flood stage at several towns - Jefferson City, Gasconade, Hermann, Washington, St. Charles. And the Meramec River, hit especially hard by March flooding, is rising again, with Arnold expected to see a crest 18 feet above flood stage on Wednesday.

In St. Charles, the Missouri is expected to reach 11.5 feet above flood stage, also on Wednesday. The Weather Service projects the flood will endanger at least seven private levees, though they protect mostly farmland.

The Mississippi and Missouri rivers converge near St. Charles, and St. Charles County emergency management spokesman John Sonderegger said there is particular concern about private levees along the Mississippi that were saturated by the summer flood.

"They were put to the test in June - they might have to be shored up," he said.

In Hermann, the Missouri is expected to crest 11.5 feet above flood stage on Thursday. If it does, 37,000 acres of farmland would be under water, and water would be creeping near a grocery store and an auto dealership.

Rains from Ike combined with earlier storms in southern and western Michigan caused a dam to fail in Berrien County and led to massive sewage overflows and flooded streets, authorities said.

An 8-foot section of an earthen dam gave way Monday night on the Dowagiac River, forcing the evacuation of about a dozen homes. The dam is about 165 miles west-southwest of Detroit.

The remnants of Ike overwhelmed Chicago's 4,300 miles of sewers - backing up into homes and turning streets and parking lots into mini lakes.

Some in Chicago wondered how the flooding got so bad so quickly, rising as fast as 3 feet in three hours in places. "I don't know what they're going to do to fix it, but they've got to do something," said Ronna Fernandez, surveying the water that surrounded her house in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood.

Stores reported a run on sump and utility pumps. "People were running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to stop the damage," said Pete Palermo, a manager of the Keystone Ace Hardware in Albany Park.

Bleach and mops were the biggest sellers on Monday as people swept away the grime and disinfected damaged basements, Palermo said. Contractors also came in for supplies as they began replacing damaged dry wall and floor tiles.

Power companies in Ohio called in hundreds of reinforcements Monday to fix widespread outages and predicted that some of the 2 million homes and businesses left without power may be in the dark until the weekend.

Schools remained closed in hundreds of Ohio districts including the state's largest, the Columbus public schools. A day after he declared a state of emergency, Gov. Ted Strickland on Tuesday planned to tour wind-swept areas in the Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus areas.

Lines backed up at the few open gas stations around suburban Cincinnati. In Sharonville, police responded to a fight that broke out among three people at one station, police Lt. John Cook said. In Warren County, firefighters at a Franklin Township fire station were giving water to residents.

In the Columbus suburb of Worthington, the parking lot of a shopping center dominated by restaurants was jammed before lunchtime. A Starbucks coffee shop and a Cosi sandwich restaurant were filled with storm refugees using laptop computers, taking advantage of the chains' wireless Internet service.

Eight inches or more of rain swamped hundreds of homes in northwestern Indiana and kept a busy stretch of Interstate 80/94 closed Monday. Downed power lines left more than 100,000 homes and businesses without electricity in central and southern Indiana, and utility officials said it could be Saturday before all power was restored.

Indiana National Guard troops were activated to assist with the evacuation of about 5,000 residents from flooded parts of Munster, a town along the Illinois line.

"The water was nothing but a trickle in the middle of the street and by the time we decided what to do it was too late," said George Polvich, who was rescued by boat.

The rains led authorities to open the Chicago Lock, reversing the flow of the Chicago River into Lake Michigan for only the third time in five years.

When asked if the state could have done anything more, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said, "I can't imagine - nothing short of pass a joint resolution by two chambers praying to God that it doesn't rain."