Record flooding hits U.S. Midwest, threatens South
Swollen rivers in the U.S. Midwest and other regions bring flood warnings to over 12 million Americans as scores of buildings are submerged after days of intense rain in which 24 people have died.
Rain-swollen rivers in the U.S. Midwest forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents, threatened crops and livestock and left scores of buildings underwater after days of extreme weather in which 24 people died.
Several major rivers, including the Mississippi, were expected to crest on Thursday on or above record levels as flood waters rushed toward the Gulf of Mexico, the National Weather Service said.
Aerial footage showed the Kaskaskia River in Illinois overflowing and houses and other buildings around it partially submerged.
Carlyle Lake in southwestern Illinois has risen to nearly 11 feet above its normal winter level, according to US Army Corp of Engineer officials.
On Thursday officials shut down the Interstate 55 highway south of St. Louis. Flooding has also closed parts of Interstate 44, a major artery running from west Texas to St. Louis, as well as numerous other roadways.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Wednesday as the waters moved south toward his state. Flash flood warnings were issued for parts of the Carolinas and Georgia.
At least 24 people have died in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Oklahoma in flooding after days of downpours that brought as much as 12 inches (30 cm) of rain to some areas. Most of the deaths resulted from people driving into flooded areas.
Historic floods on the Mississippi in 1993, 1995 and 2011 occurred during warm weather, after snow melts in the north. AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski called it highly unusual to have heavy flooding in winter and said it could presage trouble for the spring.
Agriculture experts said that water standing more than a week could kill the soft red winter wheat crop. Export premiums for corn and soybeans were at their highest levels in weeks because of stalled barge traffic on swollen rivers.
Livestock also has been hard hit. About 2,500 hogs drowned in an Illinois barn after a creek overflowed its banks, said Jennifer Tirey, a spokeswoman for the state’s Pork Producers Association.
The U.S. flooding is occurring at the same time as historic El Nino-related flooding across northern England. The El Nino weather phenomenon tends to disturb global weather patterns as ocean water temperatures rise above normal across the central and eastern Pacific, near the equator.
Several major rivers, including the Mississippi, and tributaries in Missouri and Illinois were poised to crest at record or above-record levels, the National Weather Service said, but parts of the region were already inundated.
Flood warnings were issued from eastern Oklahoma into southeastern Kansas, southern Missouri, central Illinois and parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Florida panhandle.
While the rains have stopped for now, freezing weather is setting in, which will make the cleanup a miserable undertaking, Sosnowski said.
At the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, about 20 miles (32 km) north of St. Louis, residents of the towns West Alton and Arnold were told to evacuate on Tuesday. About 400 residents and businesses in the town of Pacific also have evacuated.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed a 5-mile (8 km) stretch of the Mississippi near St. Louis on Tuesday to all vessel traffic due to hazardous conditions.
The Mississippi River, the third longest river in North America, is expected to crest over the weekend at Thebes, Illinois, at 47.5 feet, more than a foot and a half (46 cm) above the 1995 record, according to the National Weather Service.
The severe weather has stranded tens of thousands of people during one of the busiest travel times of the year.
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