Shelters open in Midwest as flood waters keep rising

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) — Shelters were open today to assist people forced from their homes by flooding in the Midwest, as rivers swollen by heavy rain and melting snow continue to rise in Indiana, Michigan and other states.

Flood warnings were in effect across a wide swath of the central and southern U.S., from Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio to Texas and Louisiana. The American Red Cross said it has opened eight shelters in northern Indiana, where crews used boats to help residents evacuate their homes.

In Elkhart and nearby Goshen, local officials declared a state of emergency and asked that traffic be limited to first responders and emergency personnel. Indiana University-South Bend canceled classes today, and residents of a student apartment complex were encouraged to leave.

“I ended up grabbing my favorite blanket and stuffed animals,” 15-year-old Madison Schmidt, who was evacuated from her home in Elkhart to a shelter at a church, told The Elkhart Truth newspaper. “I got into the boat. Seeing what happened, just almost made me cry.”

In Michigan, states of emergency were declared in the Lansing area as officials recommended the evacuations of several neighborhoods. City officials said anyone living in the possible flood areas should temporarily leave their home by midday today.

“While the rain has stopped, we are expecting significant flooding,” Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said.

Flooding also hit nearby Michigan State University, where some roads, parking lots and athletic fields were covered by water from the Red Cedar River that runs through its East Lansing campus. Classes in several buildings have been relocated and the school put up sand-filled barriers in an attempt to curb flooding.

“Be careful if you’re trying to come to campus,” Schor said Wednesday, noting that the river was at its highest levels since 1975. “Changing conditions are affecting not only the roads but sidewalks and walkways.”

The National Weather Service predicted the Grand River in Lansing would crest by late today at 14.6 feet, nearly 3 feet above flood stage. The Red Cedar River was forecast to crest at 10.3 feet.

The storm system started pushing heavy rain, snow and ice into the region this week, affecting roads and other low-lying areas. The weather was been blamed for hundreds of car crashes and several deaths, including a crash that killed four people along a slippery interstate in Nebraska.

In central Michigan’s Fairplain Township, a 1-year-old girl was found dead Wednesday in standing water from rains and snowmelt in her backyard.

Homes and streets also were flooded in the South Bend area of Indiana, and forecasters predicted that the swollen St. Joseph River wouldn’t crest until today. Firefighters in Lake Station, Indiana, about 30 miles southeast of Chicago, evacuated some residents Wednesday after 15 to 20 homes were surrounded by about 2 to 3 feet of water.

In Illinois, authorities issued an evacuation order Wednesday for residents in the city of Marseilles who live near the Illinois River. Fear of the rising river also prompted the evacuation of a nursing home in Ottawa.

Two days of rain in southern Wisconsin swelled waterways, leading to a handful of high-water rescues for people stranded in their vehicles.