By Jim Salter
ST. LOUIS — A man has died after his vehicle was swept off a road near a flooded creek in southern Missouri, marking the 10th death blamed on flooding in the Midwest, authorities said Friday.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said the 69-year-old man was trying to cross a flooded road across Dry Fork Creek when his car was swept away Thursday night. His body was recovered several hours later.
Heavy downpours that started last weekend have caused waterways to surge in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and other states. Six deaths are now blamed on flooding in Missouri, while four occurred in Arkansas.
Many rivers are subsiding and some evacuated residents are being allowed to return home, though the Mississippi River is still rising in some areas.
The surging waters prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to closed a 77-mile stretch of the river in Illinois from Chester to Cairo late Thursday. About 14.5 miles were closed earlier this week in St. Louis.
The closures mean barges carrying agricultural goods and other products have been sidelined. It’s unclear when the spans will reopen, though crests are expected along the river this weekend in communities south of St. Louis.
But there was encouraging news in an evacuated eastern Missouri town on Friday, where local officials were confident the area would stay dry even as more sandbags were piled on top of levees.
West Alton’s 500 residents live near the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers — the nation’s two largest rivers — about 20 miles north of St. Louis. Both rivers were at major flood stage and water was seeping over levees at West Alton, but emergency manager Gary Machens was confident the levees would hold.
“We’re not going to lose it,” Machens said, though he acknowledged it was touch and go. “When you get water running over the levee, it’s pretty serious.”
Elsewhere in eastern Missouri, residents of a levee-protected part of Valley Park began returning home Friday. They were evacuated Monday amid concerns the levee might not hold, but the area stayed dry.