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SANDBAGGERS GIVE UP FIGHT, LEAVE HOMES

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Weary sandbaggers gave up fighting the Mississippi River as it surged two miles over its banks and reached this inland community, threatening to affect up to 1,500 people.

The Mississippi had sprawled nearly seven miles outside its banks upriver at Peruque, breaking through a levee on Monday, a St. Charles County spokesman said.Flooding on the Mississippi and its tributaries throughout the Midwest has been blamed for 14 deaths and billions of dollars in damage to property and crops.

In Minnesota alone, the governor estimated damage at $1 billion or more. More than half the soybean and corn crops in parts of the state may be lost. Business and crop loss in Iowa is estimated at $1 billion.

About 350 people who were evacuated from their homes in Iowa were in shelters overnight. Most were in southeast Iowa, Red Cross officials said.

About 100 Eddyville residents in southeast Iowa agreed to evacuate while about the same number in nearby Ottumwa were ordered to leave their homes on the city's west side as the Des Moines River rose to 20.6 feet. (Flood stage is 10 feet, and the levee system in Ottumwa protects up to 25 feet.)

"There are about 300 homes that could be affected if the levee were to overtop or fail in Eddyville," said Keith Haas of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In West Alton, 150 volunteers gave up the fight against the rain-swollen river Tuesday after more than two days of stacking sandbags, prompting evacuation of 500 people, when the National Weather Service decided the river would crest 2 feet higher than first thought.

It was expected to top the levees later Wednesday. West Alton is two miles south of the Mississippi and eight miles north of the Missouri River.

"It's going to wipe the whole town out," said Paul Luster, who moved some of his furniture out of his house Sunday and the rest of his belongings to the second floor. "What they're predicting, it's not going to be safe."

That's getting to be the case all over the Midwest. At St. Louis, the Mississippi was at 38.1 feet, 8.1 feet over flood stage and within range of the record 43.3 feet reached during what has come to be known as the Great Flood of 1973.

Weeks of heavy rain have pushed the upper Mississippi and its tributaries far out of their normal channels, replacing livestock and crops with fish and silt and flooding hundreds of homes.

The water isn't likely to recede soon. Rain keeps falling upstream, and the Mississippi hit record levels Tuesday at some Iowa towns and kept rising.