Rain-Weary Residents Hope for Break in Flood Areas

With the swollen Illinois River lapping within feet of the house he shares with an aunt, Shane Neteler waged a one-man sandbagging campaign.

As the river reaches a record crest over the weekend, Neteler said, he thinks he has a shot at keeping everything but the basement dry. He described the fight as the price of living along the river's edge.

"There's panicky people and there's those who deal with it," the 20-year-old said Friday. "It's nothing new."

Residents up and down the Illinois River are watching water levels and hoping forecasts of a break from days of rain are true. The same was true in Missouri's Bootheel region, already hit hard by spring tornadoes and floods.

This month, flooding has been blamed for eight deaths in Missouri and contributed to an 8-year-old Illinois boy's drowning on Thursday.

In Indiana, which was under a flood watch Friday, some river communities saw improvement with rivers either receding or slowing their rise.

"Things have calmed down quite a bit," said Alden Taylor, spokesman for the state Emergency Management Agency.

Despite two days of rain, the Mississippi River appeared to have crested Friday at Crystal City, Mo., where volunteers helped pile thousands of sandbags.

"Everybody just digs in and helps out in this community," said resident Ron Sparks. "We've never asked for help, people just show up. That's why I live here."

In Chandlerville, about a mile from the Sangamon River, floodwaters began to recede Friday. The elevated roadbed of Illinois 78 was just enough -- with sandbags -- to save most of the agricultural town of 700 after a private levee broke.

Volunteers began filling sandbags on May 8, after sustained rains began but before the river threatened, and planned to continue.

"People thought we had a screw loose for being too cautious," said Mayor Tim Richard. "The worst thing you could do ... is sit back and wonder if it will happen."

In southeastern Illinois, water from a tributary of the Wabash River continued to rise in Carmi, forcing several families from their homes. Police Chief Mike Thomas said they included some families who refused a state buyout over the past two years.

Emergency management officials said the Illinois River from Grafton to Lacon will likely remain closed to boat traffic until floodwaters crest and begin receding, which could be Tuesday in some towns.

That's bad news for barge owners, who lose about $250,000 each day a stretch of the Illinois River is closed, according to Paul Rohde, vice president of St. Louis-based Midwest Area Rivers Coalition 2000, an industry group.

The Illinois River is dotted with small hamlets like Bath comprised of an eclectic mix of homes, weekend retreats and hunting lodges. Most have lost a handful of houses.

Marvin Gaines, 64, who remembers the previous record-setting Illinois River flood of 1943 from his childhood, said those who live intimately with the river are mindful that it can turn on them.

"You know, the river is like a magnet, it draws people," he said. "But it hurts seeing people get flooded out."