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Downpours may keep residents from homes

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ST. LOUIS — Strong Midwestern downpours may force residents to wait even longer to return to homes they evacuated because of fears of flooding, emergency management officials said Thursday.

Parts of northeast Missouri and west-central Illinois got as much as an inch of rainfall overnight Wednesday after powerful downpours the night before. Weather systems rolling across Iowa were expected to produce more rain Thursday and Friday, the National Weather Service said.

The rain was bringing new river crests and fresh anxiety. As calls for sandbagging slowed in one community, they popped up in another.

In Canton, Mo., the Mississippi River had fallen to 24.9 feet Thursday, but officials were monitoring weather reports in Iowa and said they could not yet lift a voluntary evacuation in parts of town.

"A major rainfall could bring our levels back up just as quickly as it did before when it rose 10 feet in a week," said Canton emergency management director Jeff McReynolds.

About 45 miles northwest of St. Louis, the community of Winfield called for a two-day break in sandbagging efforts, saying they would refresh their sand supply and restart Saturday with a new push to fill an additional 35,000 sandbags.

The Pin Oak earthen levee, which was protecting about 100 homes in Winfield, was holding but showed signs of strain, with slides, settling and water overflow. A foot of sandbags will be added, said Andy Binder, a spokesman for Lincoln County emergency management operations.

Officials also warned residents about bacteria in floodwaters, urging people to avoid contact with the water. "There's things out there you don't want to be associated with," Binder said.

Iowa was drying out after storms erupted Wednesday afternoon and continued into Thursday morning. In central Iowa, 5 inches of rain were reported in Polk City, near Des Moines, while Ottumwa in the southeast received over 2 inches of rain in about 30 minutes.

Meteorologist Marc Russell of the National Weather Service said rivers in southeastern Iowa are still in the major flood category and that any more rain, even an inch, could cause flash flooding. The same goes for the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas, which suffered major flooding, Russell said.

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said six joint federal and state damage assessment teams would begin collecting damage information in northern Missouri counties affected by the flooding, part of the process to seek additional federal aid.

In St. Charles County, outside St. Louis, sandbagging resumed and there was talk again of voluntary evacuations in West Alton.

"They were feeling secure three to four days ago, but with the crest levels pushed up a bit, they're discussing voluntary evacuations," said St. Charles County spokesman John Sonderegger.