Federal officials were monitoring 19 vulnerable levees on the rising Mississippi River and its tributaries, warning that hundreds of homes in Illinois and Missouri could be threatened by a rare winter flood that already forced the partial closure of interstate highways and widespread evacuations.
As the swollen rivers and streams pushed to virtually unheard-of heights Tuesday, an unknown number of inmates were transferred out of an Illinois state prison threatened by flooding and Missouri’s governor activated the National Guard to help divert traffic from submerged roads.
Record flooding was projected in some Mississippi River towns after several days of torrential rain that also caused sewage to flow unfiltered into waterways.
The Meramec River near St Louis was expected to get to more than three feet above the previous record by late this week.
At least 20 deaths over several days in Missouri and Illinois were blamed on flooding, mostly involving vehicles that drove onto swamped roadways.
Two of these deaths include a man and woman whose bodies were found in floodwaters Tuesday morning, about 6 miles east of Edinburg, Illinois.
Officials say it appears they were trying to cross a flooded area. Police used cellphone location services to find them, but their minivan is still missing.
The river on Tuesday spilled over the top of the levee at West Alton, Missouri, about 20 miles north of St Louis. Mayor William Richter ordered any of the town’s approximate 520 residents who had not already evacuated to get out of harm’s way.
Across the river, in Alton, Illinois, dozens of volunteers helped place sandbags ahead of where water is expected to rise.
The mayor of the St Louis suburb of Valley Park is ordering mandatory evacuations for a portion of the town of about 6,900 residents as the fast-rising Meramec River threatens a levee.
Mayor Michael Pennise ordered the evacuations early Wednesday. Many people had already left that area but those who didn’t were told to evacuate by 10am Wednesday.
In southwestern Missouri, residents of about 150 duplexes and homes in the tourist town of Branson had to evacuate Wednesday when flooding from a manmade lake threatened. But the shopping district along the lake was still open, Fire Chief Ted Martin said, adding, ‘it has been packed with people, and I don’t know where all of them have come from.’
Martin says Lake Taneycomo is at fault and that there have been no injuries from the flooding, which has also closed three parks and a city-owned lakeside campground.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is easing water levels at a record flow around the Table Rock Lake dam, which feeds into man-made Lake Taneycomo and is contributing to the flooding.
Mayor Brant Walker said in a statement that ‘even with our best efforts of sandbagging and pumping,’ flooding was expected at least in the basements of the downtown business district.
In another eastern Missouri town, Union, water from the normally docile Bourbeuse River reached the roofs of a McDonald’s, QuikTrip and several other businesses. The river reached an all-time high Tuesday, nearly 20 feet above flood stage.
Interstate 44 was closed in both directions near the central Missouri town of Rolla for some time Wednesday morning, but traffic began moving in the eastbound lanes later in the day. westbound traffic remains closed.
Transportation officials are urging motorists to use Interstate 70 for east-west travel.
Read more: Daily Mail