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Heavy rains pushing rivers over flood stage across Minnesota

A cyclist navigated a flooded bike path along Minnehaha Creek in South Minneapolis after heavy rains continued overnight in the Twin Cities, on Thursday, June 19, 2014. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

ST. PAUL - Heavy rains across Minnesota have closed roads and flooded farm fields and basements and are pushing rivers -- including the Mississippi -- over flood stage.

The National Weather Service said 3 to 8 inches of rain fell in west-central Minnesota late Wednesday into Thursday.

In the Twin Cities, the 3.95 inches of rain measured by Thursday afternoon at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was the most rain ever recorded for a day in June.

The Worthington and Mankato areas got dumped on earlier in the week.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urged swimmers and boaters to “think twice before heading out on the water right now,” the department said Thursday.

All the rain that has fallen will continue to rise creeks and streams that were already running high.

"They're going to go up, up rapidly," Craig Schmidt, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen, said Thursday.

The main stem rivers will continue to rise through the weekend, including the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

The National Weather Service says the Mississippi River in St. Paul could hit the major flood stage level of 17 feet late Saturday or early Sunday. It's expected to keep rising, possibly cresting at 20 feet next Thursday morning.

Should the river hit 20 feet, it would be highest crest since April 2001, when the river crested twice above 23 feet. A 20-foot crest would be the seventh highest on record and about 6 feet short of the highest crest on record -- 26.01 feet on April 16, 1965.

Watersheds and storm-sewer systems are already taxed after days of relentless precipitation, and excessive runoff will continue to threaten roads, highways and low-lying areas.

This is an usual time of year for this much flooding on the major rivers, which usually see their highest levels during spring snow melt.

One swollen creek was the Minnehaha Creek, drawing gawkers to the park around Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis.

"It's never been like this," said Lyle Camp of Eden Prairie. "Even the sidewalks around here are flooded; I've never seen that before. It's just amazing."

Yellow Medicine County Sheriff Bill Flaten said reports from the town of Wood Lake indicate as much as 10 inches of rain fell there, flooding streets and causing problems with storm sewers and sanitary sewer systems.

“They’re busy pumping,” Flaten said.

A tornado was reported to have touched down around 4:25 p.m. Thursday near Kensington in Douglas County.

Multiple funnel clouds also were reported at Maynard, Benson, Clara City, Farwell and Gluek in west-central Minnesota.

Gov. Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency in 35 Minnesota counties Thursday.

The move makes a wide range of state resources available and engages state agencies in response efforts. Dayton also sent 100 Minnesota National Guard soldiers to northern Koochiching County along the border with Ontario, where the Rainy River and Rainy Lake are threatening homes and cabins.

Dayton canceled a trip to Marshall on Thursday due to the widespread flooding. Instead, he was scheduled to visit Mankato and Owatonna to meet with local officials and assess flood damage.

State officials activated the Minnesota Emergency Operations Center to coordinate the state's response to the severe weather.

Forum News Service, a media partner with the Pioneer Press, contributed to this story.