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Mississippi River floods could be worst in 15 years

  • Story Highlights
  • Cedar Falls, Iowa, residents and business owners ready to evacuate
  • Crests of 10 feet above flood stage predicted for Mississippi River in next two weeks
  • Wisconsin workers make temporary repair to stop sewage leak
  • East Coast continues to bake under a heat wave
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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Rising rivers wiped out an Iowa railroad bridge Tuesday, flooded Illinois farmland and forced residents along the Mississippi River to prepare for what could be the worst flooding in 15 years.

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Volunteers stand atop a sandbag wall in Iowa City, Iowa.

In Cedar Falls, Iowa, officials were readying residents and downtown business owners to evacuate as the Cedar River threatened to spill over a levee. The river was expected to top the levee early Wednesday, prompting a mandatory evacuation of downtown, Mayor Jon Crews said.

"I've been downtown for 37 years and I have never seen anything like this," said Steve Schomaker, a partner in a local insurance company.

In nearby Waterloo, fast-moving water swept away a railroad bridge used to transport tractors from a John Deere factory to Cedar Rapids. It also prompted the city to shut its downtown and close five bridges.

Levee breaks Tuesday in southeastern Illinois flooded 50 to 75 square miles of farmland along the Embarras River, forcing the evacuations of homes northeast of Lawrenceville, said Lawrence County Sheriff Russell Adams. He said water was up to the roofs of some rural homes.

In Elnora, Indiana, about 100 miles southwest of Indianapolis, berms of white sandbags and concrete barriers held back the White River, leaving residents little choice but to wait and watch. Most residents left after voluntary evacuation orders came late Monday, two days after the area got up to 10 inches of rain.

"We have a very touch-and-go situation there, but everything that can be done has been done," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said.

Along the Mississippi River, the National Weather Service on Tuesday predicted crests of 10 feet above flood stage and higher over the next two weeks. Most of the towns are protected by levees, but outlying areas could be flooded.

"This is major flooding," weather service hydrologist Karl Sieczynski said of the Mississippi. He urged people in unprotected flood plain areas to seek higher ground.

Canton, Missouri, about 150 miles north of St. Louis, could get the worst of the Mississippi River's flooding. The town of 2,500 is expected to see a crest on June 18 that is nearly 12 feet above flood stage.

Mayor Joe Clark said the levee is high enough to protect the community, but a sandbagging operation is planned to make sure it holds.

"I would say we're taking it in stride at this point," Clark said. "We live with this all the time."

Downtown Hannibal, Missouri, which includes Mark Twain's boyhood home, is protected by a flood levee that was completed just months before devastating floods in 1993. Still, a few homes would be flooded if the crest prediction is accurate.

In Wisconsin on Tuesday, engineers and contractors began repairing damage done when 267-acre Lake Delton overflowed and drained, washing away three houses. The rushing water had ripped apart underground sewer lines, and on Tuesday morning raw sewage was pouring out of the pipes and running down the Wisconsin River. Video Watch house collapse into water »

A dozen workers stretched a temporary sewer line across the 200-yard breach.

Gov. Jim Doyle said he would seek a federal disaster declaration.

Wisconsin officials also decided to close the westbound lanes of Interstate 94 because water from the rising Rock River was inches away from the road.

In Michigan, utility companies said it would take several days to fully restore service to nearly 180,000 homes and businesses without power after several days of severe storms.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in two counties hit by flooding in the state's southeast corner.

In northeastern Iowa, the tiny town of New Hartford was still cleaning up from its second disaster in two weeks. Water poured over a dike and swamped much of the south side of town late Sunday, inundating residents who were just starting to recover from a May 25 tornado that killed two people. More than 150 of the town's 650 residents had to be rescued from their homes.

"We're just discouraged, and a little angry," said Corey Woods, a metal spinner and security guard.

Elsewhere, the East Coast baked in a heat wave with temperatures in the upper 90s from Georgia all the way to northern New England, where the weather service reported a Tuesday afternoon high of 99 at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Thunderstorms promising relief from the heat for parts of the Northeast knocked out power Tuesday to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. The storms knocked out power to about 150,000 customers in New Jersey, more than 140,000 customers in southeastern Pennsylvania and 50,000 in upstate New York.

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The heat forced some schools to close early, and public school teachers in New York City filed a complaint with the state over having to hold classes in sweltering classrooms.

Philadelphia officials blamed the deaths of two women on the four-day heat wave.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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