Rescue workers aid residents during Midwest flooding

Rainstorms sweeping across the Midwest combined with melting snow, leading local officials in several cities to declare a state of emergency.

Becky Malewitz/South Bend Tribune/AP
Emergency workers help a woman evacuate her home in Elkhart, Ind. on Feb. 21. Emergency crews are helping residents evacuate across northern Indiana amid flooding from melting snow and heavy rain.

Crews used boats to help residents evacuate their homes in northern Indiana after rainstorms sweeping across the Midwest on Wednesday combined with melting snow to flood rivers, roads, and other low-lying areas in several states.

The storm system started pushing heavy rain, snow, and ice into the region this week. The weather has already been blamed for hundreds of car crashes and several fatalities, including a crash that killed four people along a slippery interstate in Nebraska.

About 19 people had been evacuated from homes in Elkhart, where emergency crews used boats and an armored vehicle to respond, Mayor Tim Neese said early Wednesday. Schools were closed in the northern Indiana city because of the flooding, and an emergency shelter was set up, The Elkhart Truth newspaper reported.

"This city has not seen flooding like this in the last 45 years," Mr. Neese said. "We also had record snowfall in addition to consistent rain."

In Elkhart and nearby Goshen, Ind., local officials declared a state of emergency and asked that traffic be limited to first responders and emergency personnel. Homes and streets also were flooded in the South Bend area, and forecasters predicted that the swollen St. Joseph River wouldn't crest until Thursday.

Evacuations grew elsewhere across the Midwest after heavy rains and snowmelt sent rivers and streams out of their banks.

Authorities in Lansing, Mich., recommended the evacuations of at least six neighborhoods. Late Wednesday, Mayor Andy Schor declared a state of emergency for the city in anticipation that flooding will hit residential areas.

The National Weather Service predicts the Grand River in Lansing will crest at 14.6 feet, nearly three feet above flood stage by late Thursday. The Red Cedar River is forecast to crest at 10.3 feet.

City officials recommended anyone living in the possible flood areas to temporarily leave their home by noon Thursday.

Firefighters in Lake Station, Ind., about 30 miles southeast of Chicago, evacuated some residents Wednesday after about 2 to 3 feet of water surrounded 15 to 20 homes.

In Illinois, authorities issued an evacuation order Wednesday for residents in the city of Marseilles who live near the Illinois River. The fear of rising water along the river forced the evacuation late Tuesday of the LaSalle County Nursing Home in Ottawa, Ill. Two days of rain in southern Wisconsin swelled waterways, leading to a handful of high-water rescues for people stranded in their vehicles.

The National Weather Service said up to 8 inches of rain have fallen in parts of northern Indiana since Monday.

The weather service has issued flood warnings for parts of several other states in the central and southern United States, spanning from Texas to Illinois and Ohio to Arkansas. Winter weather advisories also were issued, including in Oklahoma and Kansas.

More than a dozen students were rescued after their school bus drove off the road and got stuck in floodwaters in Arkansas, where strong winds toppled power lines and damaged buildings. A school bus was pushed off a county road near Lafayette, Ind., by the wake of a passing vehicle. No students were injured in either accident.

In Michigan, flooded streets stranded motorists and a school bus in Flint, and a washout from heavy rains may have caused two freight train engines to derail near Grand Rapids. Police said two railroad workers suffered injuries that weren't life-threatening. Residents in Mattawan, in southwestern Michigan, used sandbags to protect homes and businesses as a river rose above its banks.

"We just got to wait for it to go down," Terry Teeter, who installed pumps to keep water away from his house, told WOOD-TV. "It's going to be a couple of days like this."

State police said a 1-year-old girl was found dead Wednesday in standing water from rains and snowmelt in her backyard in central Michigan's Fairplain Township.

A woman from Bourbonnais, Ill., was found dead Tuesday in a submerged car in Peotone, south of Chicago. The woman apparently lost control of her vehicle and ended up in a rain-filled ditch, said Peotone Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Bruce Boyle.

In eastern Nebraska, speed and slippery pavement caused a crash between a pickup truck and a semitrailer along Interstate 80 on Tuesday that killed four people from Colorado, police said. The Kansas Highway Patrol said a woman died and two other people were injured in a collision on an icy highway late Monday.

In Minnesota, state police said winter weather contributed to 400 crashes and 250 spinouts, including two fatal accidents.

The storm system stretched to Texas, where weather service officials said three tornadoes hit. One struck early Tuesday in a rural area near Joshua, destroying at least two mobile homes and severely damaging several others. A mother and her disabled daughter were injured when one twister demolished their mobile home.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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