Rivers flooding near record levels forced more evacuations yesterday in Louisiana and Mississippi, while cities in the Midwest struggled from under knee-deep snow deposited by a fierce blizzard.

A series of storms that began Christmas Eve has claimed at least 28 lives.

Water was still rising in northeastern Louisiana, where the National Weather Service was predicting the worst flooding in 20 years. The Red Cross estimated that at least 2,300 families had been affected across the state.

In Mississippi, the Tombigbee River at Columbus near the Alabama border was 7 feet above flood stage and climbing toward levels reached in a devastating flood in 1973.

Officials prepared for mass evacuations, and several highways in the area were under water.

Civil Defense spokesman John Sapen said the small farming community of Freedom Village, south of Greenville, Miss., was "nothing more than houses sitting in the middle of a big lake."

Flooding also was expected along the Mississippi River in the Natchez area.

Civil Defense officials in Monroe, La., broadcast an appeal for volunteers to help sandbag levees, and 400 people turned out.

In Natchitoches, La., Deputy Sheriff Kenneth Mack said crews equipped with three National Guard trucks, boats and a helicopter had evacuated 50 families from a rural area cut off by high water.

The weather service issued new flood warnings for the Ouachita River at Monroe and Columbia, the Little River near Rochelle and the Black River near Jonesville.

"All parish county areas of northeast to central Louisiana should realize that this is an exceptional flood event," the Weather Service said.

David Barnes, chief forecaster for the Weather Service in New Orleans, said, "We are looking at near records along many of the streams."

In Arkansas, where damage from flooding and tornadoes earlier this month has been estimated at $358 million, officials of the Federal Emergency Management Administration said disaster centers would be opened today to receive applications for grants and loans.

In the West and Midwest, snow was the headache.

In Denver, buried by 2 feet of snow over Christmas, traffic was still tangled, and transit officials said they could muster only "emergency service."

"It's the pits," said Kathy Joyce, a spokesman for the Regional Transportation District in Denver. "The traffic moved about 20 mph, and so did the buses."

In the Denver suburbs, disgruntled commuters waited for an hour or more in subfreezing temperatures. Stapleton International Airport was returning to normal after five days of confusion with hundreds of stranded travelers, but a mountain of luggage remained unclaimed.

Searchers on snowmobiles and horses continued hunting in drift-filled ravines in southern Colorado for Howard Hubbs, a mailman missing since Friday and presumed dead.

Colorado's lucrative ski industry, normally at capacity during the holidays, reported vacancy rates as high as 30 percent because skiers were unable to reach resorts. A spokesman estimated that the storm cost the industry $3 million.

Elsewhere, strong winds buffeted the Great Lakes region, while midwestern cities dug from under about 18 inches of snow and many eastern cities continued enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures.

Winds gusting to 66 mph hit Buffalo during the night, snapping power lines and tree limbs and smashing windows. Part of the roof of a Buffalo Savings Bank office was ripped off.

Al Osborne, a spokesman for the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., said that 4,000 to 5,000 homes and businesses lost power but that most of the service was restored yesterday.

Power had also been restored to most of the 200,000 homes that went dark as the snowstorm roared from eastern Colorado to upper Michigan Monday and Tuesday.

The National Weather Service called the storm one of the worst in Minnesota history. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, downtown offices were deserted Tuesday, and the airport was closed for the first time in 25 years.

Hundreds of stranded travelers spent the night at truck stops, armories, hotels and motels, and deserted vehicles were scattered across highways and streets in the Midwest. Most major highways were reopened by Tuesday night.