CHICAGO: Nervous residents in the flood-ravaged US state of Missouri waited anxiously Thursday to see how high the Mississippi River would rise, as the death toll from the record-breaking deluge hit 14.
The frigid, muddy waters have swallowed up hundreds of homes and businesses. Scores of people have had to be rescued by boat — including one man plucked from the roof of his home as it floated away.
Governor Jay Nixon pleaded with people to heed evacuation orders and stay off flooded roadways, after the body of a motorist who was swept off a road was recovered on Wednesday.
“This historic flooding event will continue to cause significant hazards and disruptions — from Missourians being forced from their homes, to businesses temporarily closing, to traffic congestion and impacts on interstate commerce due to the closure of a major trucking corridor,” Nixon said in a statement.
“I thank the many Missourians who are assisting their neighbors by providing rooms in their homes, helping with sandbagging efforts and countless other acts of kindness.”
House hits bridge
The Mississippi River was forecast to crest in the city of St. Louis late Thursday at more than 12 feet (3.8 meters) above flood stage, according to the National Weather Service.
Floodgates protect the city of 300,000, but many surrounding suburbs and downriver towns are not protected.
Smaller tributaries have topped previous records by more than four feet and as those waters reach the Mississippi it will continue to rise.
The downriver town of Chester is forecast to see a crest that will be more than 20 feet above flood stage on Monday, the weather service said.
Officials as far south as Louisiana are preparing for flooding as the deluge makes its way slowly down to the Gulf of Mexico.
The rare winter flood is expected to break records set in the Great Flood of 1993, which caused $15 billion in damages and flooded 30,000 square miles (78,000 square kilometers.)
The United States has been hit by a wave of wild weather — tornadoes, floods and rain — that has claimed at least 52 lives in the past week and stranded millions trying to get home after the Christmas holiday.
Nixon has declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to help local officials deal with the rare winter flooding — the result of a monster storm system that also unleashed tornadoes and freezing rain.
Neighboring Illinois has also been hard-hit. The storm claimed the lives of five people swept away while driving on a flooded roadway, and a state of emergency was declared in a dozen counties.
The wild winter weather also killed 11 people in Texas, 11 people in Mississippi and six in Tennessee.
Alabama and Arkansas each reported two storm-related deaths while Georgia had one death.
Significant flooding is currently occurring in more than a dozen US states, the weather service said.