At least 4 dead as U.S. Midwest hit with devastating spring floods

WATCH ABOVE: Widespread flooding continues in Midwest U.S. after heavy rains sent rivers rising over their banks

The latest round of Midwestern flooding claimed at least four lives, closed hundreds of roads and forced residents of river towns to shore up threatened levees with sandbags as waters rose to and near record levels in some communities.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings Friday along a large swath of the Mississippi River, as well as flash flood watches for parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas after recent rounds of heavy rain.

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The body of a missing kayaker was found Friday afternoon in a swollen southwest Missouri creek. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. John Lueckenhoff identified the man as 35-year-old Scott M. Puckett of Forsyth, Missouri. The body of his friend, Alex Ekern, 23, was found Thursday.

Puckett and Ekern were among three men who began paddling Wednesday afternoon in Bull Creek near the small town of Walnut Shade. The patrol said they were swept over a low-water bridge and caught in what is called a hydraulic, which creates a washing-machine effect that is hard to escape. One of the men survived.

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WATCH: Video shows extent of devastating flooding in Davenport, Iowa

Video shows extent of devastating flooding in Davenport, Iowa
Video shows extent of devastating flooding in Davenport, Iowa

Flooding also claimed the life of a camper found Wednesday after he was caught in waters from an overflowed creek near the town of Ava, also in southwest Missouri. And in northern Indiana, a 2-year-old was killed when his mother drove onto a flooded road.

In Davenport, Iowa, concerns were that even after the Mississippi River reached a record height, the worst was far from over.

The crest inched above the 1993 record on Thursday, and forecasters are calling for up to 10 centimetres of additional rain next week, meaning the high water will likely stick around and potentially get even higher.

Several blocks of downtown Davenport were flooded this week when a flood barrier succumbed to the onslaught of water. The river at the Quad Cities has been at major flood stage or higher for 41 consecutive days.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visited Davenport Friday.

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Historic flooding was happening elsewhere along the river, too. The National Weather Service is now projecting flood levels to reach the second- or third-highest ever at several Mississippi River towns in northeast Missouri — Hannibal, Louisiana, Clarksville and Winfield — and western Illinois towns such as Quincy, Alton and Grafton.

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Grafton Mayor Rick Eberlin said in a conference call that included the leaders of other river towns that roads are closing around the town and that it’s working to get businesses to move out as waters rise. The town, which is 65 kilometres north of St. Louis, has no flood walls or levees. He said water is beginning to encroach upon city hall.

WATCH: Cautious optimism emerges from Canada’s flood zones

Cautious optimism emerges from Canada’s flood zones
Cautious optimism emerges from Canada’s flood zones

“We are at our wits end,” Eberlin said. “We are totally unprotected.”

Kimmswick, Missouri, Mayor Phil Stang said the community is building atop a permanent levee in hopes of holding back the water. “We’ve closed off the city completely. As soon as it rains, we are a bathtub.”

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Sandbagging efforts began Friday in Winfield, where the Pin Oak Levee was threatened. Winfield, about 80 kilometres north of St. Louis, was among many towns where volunteers were racing the clock to add sandbags to the tops of levees and around homes and businesses.

In Alton, the Argosy Casino Alton was forced to close on Friday as floodwaters crept higher into downtown. Alton’s mayor, Brant Walker, complained that the city is “doing flood control every eight months” and that the frequent business closures are hurting the city’s finances.

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“We are barely keeping our head above water,” he said.

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In St. Louis, the Gateway Arch remains open, even as floodwaters pour over the road beneath it.

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The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday closed the Mississippi for a 8-kilometre stretch at St. Louis, citing both the high water and the swift current.

The Mississippi isn’t the only river bulging out of its banks. Moderate flooding at Missouri River towns like Washington and St. Charles in Missouri was causing headaches like road closures, but few homes were impacted.

The Meramec River in suburban St. Louis is rising fast and will crest Sunday and Monday around 4.5 metres above flood stage in towns like Arnold and Valley Park, threatening several homes and businesses.

Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Missouri. Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.