Midwest prepares for flooding

TOLEDO, Ohio &

The threat of worsened flooding stretched across Ohio today, where two days of rain and melting snow left water covering busy roads and pushed rain-swollen rivers and creeks past their breaking points.

In northwest Ohio, city leaders in Findlay hoped to avoid another major flood just months after the city was swamped by historic flooding.

The Blanchard River, which runs through the city, was rising about 5 inches an hour during heavy rains Tuesday afternoon and was predicted to hit 4 feet above flood stage by tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

Gary Valentine, director of the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, said that despite the rising river, the outlook was not as bad as officials thought on Tuesday.

"It's getting worse, but it's moving slower," Valentine said Wednesday morning.

Rain was expected to turn into snow or sleet Wednesday afternoon and continue into the night in northern Ohio, with up to 2 inches predicted. There's also a chance for snow Thursday.

The rains were being caused by warm, moist air that surged over the state following weekend snowfall. A combination of melting snow and frozen ground that doesn't absorb water was creating the perfect conditions for floods, officials said.

In Findlay, city leaders were ready to warn business owners that they should be ready to move if the Blanchard River spills over into the downtown area.

The state's natural resources department said it will have boats ready if they are needed, said Jim Barker, Findlay's safety director. Police planned to put cruisers at all fire stations in case the floodwaters split the city in half, which is what happened in late August.

Neighborhoods were isolated last summer when heavy rains dumped up to 10 inches during a few hours, bringing the city's worst flood since 1913. Damage to city-owned buildings and property was estimated to be as much as $31 million.

If evacuations become necessary, Valentine said a winter flood creates different problems than one in the summer.

"Then we had warm water; now we have ice water," he said. "Then people waded out of their homes and walked to dry land; this time when you're asked if you want to leave, think about it twice if you're inclined to stay. We don't want people wading in ice water and getting hypothermia."

The downpours left standing water across all lanes of Interstate 75 north of Findlay early Wednesday, forcing a shutdown for more than two hours. The major north-south highway was reopened by 6:30 a.m., the State Highway Patrol said.

In Cincinnati, one heavily traveled city street was closed during afternoon rush hour Tuesday because a mudslide knocked over a retaining wall.

That corner of the state also had problems with strong winds that reached 60 mph and downed trees and power lines, resulting in outages in several counties.

Flooding of the Grand River in Painesville, east of Cleveland, closed a bridge over the waterway. Flooding there in 2006 destroyed a riverfront condominium complex and forced residents to cling to rooftops awaiting rescue.

In Mansfield, about 60 miles north of Columbus, Ron Harvey also missed a day of work when his cleaning and restoration business was hit Tuesday by about 5 inches of water, the fourth time in two years he's experienced flooding.

"They know it's a problem," Harvey said of city, state and federal officials. "Now every heavy rain ... we get nailed down here."

Associated Press writers Terry Kinney in Cincinnati and Doug Whiteman in Columbus contributed to this story.

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