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Midwest braces for flooding

FENTON, Mo. - With more than a dozen people killed by floodwaters and rivers still rising, weary Midwesterners on Thursday weighed not just the prospect of a sodden cleanup but the likelihood that their communities could be inundated again.

Families in some areas have been forced from their homes multiple times in the past few years, making the routine of filling sandbags and rescuing furniture into a familiar drill.

'We've been through this before,' said Michelle Buhlinger, who works for the school district in Valley Park in suburban St. Louis. 'We're expecting the levee to hold up, but we don't want to take any chances.'

The first day of spring brought much-needed sunshine to some flooded communities, but many swelling rivers were not expected to crest until the weekend in Arkansas, Missouri, southern Illinois, southern Indiana and Kentucky.

The worst flooding happened in smaller rivers across the nation's midsection. Major channels such as the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers saw only minor flooding.

In Fenton, another suburb, Jeff Rogles joined dozens of volunteers to fill sandbags and pile them against downtown businesses near the fast-rising Meramec River, which was expected to reach more than 20 feet above flood stage in some spots near St. Louis.

'I think we have enough volunteers out here to stave off disaster,' said Rogles, 27, who joined the effort because he remembered the devastating Great Flood of 1993.

Parts of Missouri got a foot of rain over a 36-hour period this week, causing widespread flash flooding and swelling many rivers. Five deaths have been confirmed in Missouri and hundreds of people were forced from their homes. Many families will return to find their property badly damaged or destroyed.

Valley Park is protected by a flood levee completed in 2005, but the projected 40-foot-crest there on Saturday would reach within three feet of the top of the levee. As a result, many homeowners, merchants and even schools were moving to higher ground.

Police in Pacific, Mo., went door-to-door evacuating about 50 homes in low-lying areas.

In southwest Indiana, Todd Ferguson has spent the past three days building a sandbag wall around his sister-in-law's Evansville home.

Pigeon Creek normally flows about 200 yards from Valerie Ferguson's house, but the water had crept to within 10 feet and was not expected to crest until Sunday.

In 2006, the Fergusons piled more than 1,000 sandbags around their home and still sustained about $1,000 in damage. This time, they don't have help from Valerie's husband, Tim, who is serving in Iraq with the Indiana National Guard.

'We won two years ago, but I don't know if we're going to win this one,' Todd Ferguson said. 'Only time will tell, I guess.'

In Batesville, Ark., antique mall operator Marcia Weaver stood along the banks of the Spring River and watched as pieces of lives were washed away.

'There were large pieces of furniture, dressers, picnic tables from the parks. I saw a four-wheeler going down. Lots of canoes and kayaks that didn't have anybody in them,' she said.