Record flooding hits Midwest, threatens South

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Swollen rivers in the U.S. Midwest and other regions brought flood warnings for over 12 million Americans on Wednesday as scores of buildings were submerged after days of intense rain in which 24 people have died.

Two rivers west of St. Louis crested at historic levels, flooding local towns, disabling sewer plants and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

See images of the extensive flood damage:

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Flooding due to storms, Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi
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Record flooding hits Midwest, threatens South
VALLEY PARK, MO - JANUARY 1: The flooded overpass intersection of Interstate 44 and Highway 141 seen on January 1, 2016 in Valley Park, Missouri. After being closed for a number of days, Interstate 44 reopened today as the water begins to recede after record crest of the Meremac River after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
PACIFIC, MO - JANUARY 1: Debbie Kelly is seen down a hallway covered in mud from receded floodwater in her home on January 1, 2016 in Pacific, Missouri. Pacific is one of many Missouri towns looking to rebuild after record crest of the Meremac River after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
ARNOLD, MO - DECEMBER 31: A member of the Missouri National Guard works along Interstate 55 to pump water off the pavment on December 31, 2015 in Arnold, Missouri. The highway has been closed since December 30th as a result of the near record flood crests of the Meremac River after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
ARNOLD, MO - DECEMBER 31: A Missouri Department of Transportation worker works along Interstate 55 on December 31, 2015 in Arnold, Missouri. The highway has been closed since December 30th as a result of the near record flood crests of the Meremac River after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
In this aerial photo, people use a canoe to navigate a flooded street, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Arnold, Mo. Surging Midwestern rivers forced hundreds of evacuations, threatened dozens of levees and brought transportation by car, boat or train to a virtual standstill Thursday in the St. Louis area. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
In this aerial photo, road crews pump water off the highway as floodwater covers Interstate 55, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Arnold, Mo. Surging Midwestern rivers forced hundreds of evacuations, threatened dozens of levees and brought transportation by car, boat or train to a virtual standstill Thursday in the St. Louis area. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
FENTON, MO - DECEMBER 30: A Circle K gas station is completely submerged on Route 141 on December 30, 2015 in Fenton, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region are experiencing record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
FENTON, MO - DECEMBER 30: Gravios Road is fully submerged at the Sunset Hills, Missouri city line on December 30, 2015 in Fenton, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region are experiencing record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
HIGH RIDGE, MO - DECEMBER 30: The Meremac River floods a plain on December 30, 2015 in High Ridge, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region are experiencing record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
Flood waters reached the homes along South Fifth Street on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015 in Pacific, Mo. (Huy Mach/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
ARNOLD, MO - DECEMBER 30: A flooded out home is seen as the Meremac River has overflowed on December 30, 2015 in Arnold, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region are experiencing record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
Paul Dusablon and Richard Kotva move from the Circle K at Springdale Park as they worked to move electronics off the floor south of Fenton on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
Saline Valley Fire Protection District firefighters, including Nathan Miller, right, helped four people and three dogs escape a flooded mobile home on Babs Lane at Old Highway 141 south of Fenton on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images)
ARNOLD, MO - DECEMBER 30: A resident canoes himself down a street submerged in floodwater from the Meremac River on December 30, 2015 in Arnold, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region are experiencing record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
FENTON, MO - DECEMBER 30: Trash and debris is seen along a line of local business as the Meremac river floods on December 30, 2015 in Fenton, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region experiencing record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
FENTON, MO - DECEMBER 30: Workers work to install sandbags outside a business on December 30, 2015 in Fenton, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region experiencing record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
FENTON, MO - DECEMBER 30: John Tosti, owner of Tosti's Transmission wades in the water after inspecting his business as it takes on floodwater on December 30, 2015 in Fenton, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region experiencing record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
In this aerial photo, a house is surrounded by floodwater, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Eureka, Mo. A rare winter flood threatened nearly two dozen federal levees in Missouri and Illinois on Wednesday as rivers rose, prompting evacuations in several places. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
In this aerial photo, homes are surrounded by floodwater, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in West Alton, Mo. A rare winter flood threatened nearly two dozen federal levees in Missouri and Illinois on Wednesday as rivers rose, prompting evacuations in several places. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Floodwater from the Bourbeuse River surrounds a McDonald's restaurant, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Union, Mo. Torrential rains over the past several days pushed already swollen rivers and streams to virtually unheard-of heights in parts of Missouri and Illinois. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Lisa Lemons stands on a hill overlooking floodwater from the Bourbeuse River, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Union, Mo. Flooding across Missouri has forced the closure of hundreds of roads and threatened homes. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
A holiday wreath hangs from a light post surrounded by floodwater from the Bourbeuse River, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Union, Mo. Flooding across Missouri has forced the closure of hundreds of roads and threatened homes. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
People stand on a hill to get a better look at floodwater from the Bourbeuse River Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Union, Mo. Flooding across Missouri has forced the closure of hundreds of roads and threatened homes. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Floodwater from the Bourbeuse River surrounds businesses, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Union, Mo. Flooding across Missouri has forced the closure of hundreds of roads and threatened homes. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
A Christmas decoration hangs on the door of a home surrounded by floodwater from the Bourbeuse River, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Union, Mo. Flooding across Missouri has forced the closure of hundreds of roads and threatened homes. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Floodwater from the Bourbeuse River surrounds a Super 8 hotel Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Union, Mo. Flooding across Missouri has forced the closure of hundreds of roads and threatened homes. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Cathy Hoffman stops to look at the swollen Bourbeuse River Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Union, Mo. Flooding across Missouri has forced the closure of hundreds of roads and threatened homes. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Heavy equipment is used to build a temporary levee to hold back floodwater Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, in Kimmswick, Mo. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency due to wide spread flooding around the state that has closed many roads. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
William Stanley and his daughter Brittany Cole upright overturned equipment on the property on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (Jill Toyoshiba/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
Spring River flooding Sunday displaced William Stanley and his extended family from their trailer homes in Kendricktown, an unincorporated community in Jasper County just north of Carthage, Mo. On Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, family members look over the damage. Brody, a Labrador retriever, rode out the flooding inside Stanley's son Jeremy Rickman's home. (Jill Toyoshiba/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
William Stanley, right, comes in and hugs his daughter Brittany Cole on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. The Coles, who have four children, said they had spent $10,000 remodeling the home with new floors, cabinets, furniture and appliances. (Jill Toyoshiba/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
WEST ALTON, MO - DECEMBER 29: US Highway 67 is completely submerged on December 29, 2015 in West Alton, Missouri. Local authorities have called for a voluntary evacuation of the town. The St. Louis area and surrounding region are bracing for record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 29: Volunteers create and load sandbags on the banks of the River Des Peres on December 29, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region are bracing for record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 29: Volunteers create and load sandbags on the banks of the River Des Peres on December 29, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area and surrounding region are bracing for record flood crests of the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac Rivers after days of record rainfall. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
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Other major rivers including the Mississippi are expected to reach record highs as flood waters rush toward the Gulf of Mexico, the National Weather Service said.

The flooding has closed many roads and parts of Interstate 44, a major artery running from west Texas to St. Louis. It poses a threat to livestock and crops in farm areas stretching from Illinois to Louisiana.

Water rose to the rooftops of homes and businesses in Missouri, where Governor Jay Nixon called the flooding "historic and dangerous." Nixon spoke with President Barack Obama on Wednesday and received a pledge of federal support.

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About 300 people in Valley Park, Missouri, west of St. Louis, were evacuated in case a levee is breached on the Meramec River, said Chief Rick Wilken of the Valley Park Fire District. Residents in West Alton and Arnold, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and the town of Pacific have also been evacuated.


'I GOT THE CATS OUT'

Most evacuees stayed with family or friends or went to hotels, but Allen Irwin, 40, a construction worker, went to one of seven American Red Cross shelters set up in the area. The Valley Park resident said police came around evacuating people and he only had time to grab his two cats, which he put in a plastic tub.

"I got the cats out and everything else is replaceable," said Irwin, who noted that construction work will be readily available after the flood. If his house was flooded, he said he would "pick up the pieces and start again."

The Humane Society had a trailer at the shelter to take care of Irwin's cats and other pets.

In Tiptonville, Tennessee, residents were watching the Mississippi rise, and some lowland cotton fields had already flooded and farms been evacuated.

"We shut all the floodgates last night here. People near the river already are moving furniture and valuables to a higher ground," said Dewayne Haggard, manager of the food Rite grocery and a member of the Tiptonville City Board. "One day alone, we had 10 inches of rain. Pray for us."

Further south, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency as the waters moved toward his state. Flash flood warnings were issued for parts of the Carolinas and Georgia.

Some 12.1 million people nationwide are living in areas where there are flood warnings, the National Weather Service said in a statement.

'ONE HUGE LAKE'

At least 24 people have died, mostly from driving into flooded areas, in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Oklahoma after days of downpours with as much as 12 inches (30 cm) of rain.

In Eureka, Missouri, along the Meramec River, Mayor Kevin Coffey said a man was rescued from atop the cab of his pick-up truck after spending the night in a parking lot to watch over his gun shop business.

"This is 4 feet (1.2 meters) above the worst flood we ever had," Coffey said after helping to put sandbags around a school. "The town looks like one huge lake."

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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.

While the rains have stopped for now, freezing weather is setting in, which will make the cleanup a miserable undertaking, he said.

Agriculture experts said water standing more than a week could kill the soft red winter wheat crop. [L1N14H19M] Export premiums for corn and soybeans were at their highest levels in weeks because of stalled barge traffic on swollen rivers.

2,500 HOGS DROWN

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.

"There was no electricity and roads were impassable. It was just impossible to get to those pigs," she said.

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.

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.

Flood warnings were issued from eastern Oklahoma into southeastern Kansas, southern Missouri, central Illinois and parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Florida panhandle.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who has been at an undisclosed foreign vacation destination with his family, intends to return to the state Thursday and spend the following days touring the flood-stricken areas, his spokeswoman told Reuters.

By press release, Rauner declared 12 counties disaster areas.

(Additional reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Tim Ghianni in Nashville, and Theopolis Waters, Dave McKinney and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago; Writing by Fiona Ortiz and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Trott, Toni Reinhold and Andrew Hay)

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