Missouri assesses flood damage, US South still imperiled

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Damage and Danger Across Midwest as Flooding Begins to Recede for Some

(Reuters) -- Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on Saturday toured communities ravaged by flooding that killed at least 31 people in several states and forced large-scale evacuations, as the danger of rising waters shifted to Arkansas and beyond.

Nixon visited Eureka and Cape Girardeau in eastern Missouri, where floodwaters caused widespread damage, and announced the federal government had approved his request to declare an emergency to help with the massive cleanup and recovery now under way.

The governor described the scale of the flood damage as other worldly.

"It's almost as if you're living on some other planet," he said, standing near a growing pile of debris in a park in Eureka, about an hour's drive west of St. Louis on the banks of the Meramec River, which flows into the Mississippi.

"This is just a tiny fraction of the trail of destruction," the governor told reporters.

The National Weather Service reported Mississippi floodwaters in Illinois and Missouri began cresting and receding on Saturday after thousands of people had to be evacuated from their homes earlier in the week when the floods destroyed hundreds of structures.

Retired Eureka homeowner Tracy Wolf, 58, spent the last three days trying to keep water away from the sides of his house with sandbags and out of his basement with vacuums.

"Wednesday night it came in through the windows," Wolf said. "We slept three hours the first night ... I don't even know what day it is."

Twelve counties have been declared disaster areas in Illinois, where Governor Bruce Rauner on Saturday toured several communities hard-hit by flooding. On Friday, he ordered Illinois National Guard troops into flooded areas to mitigate damage and help with evacuation.

The floods claimed the lives of at least 31 people in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, most of whom drove into flooded areas after days of downpours.

Authorities continued searching on Saturday for country singer Craig Strickland of the band Backroad Anthem. He had gone duck hunting on an Oklahoma lake during stormy conditions and his friend, Chase Morland, was found dead on Monday.

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Flooding due to storms, Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi
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Missouri assesses flood damage, US South still imperiled
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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In Thebes, Illinois, about 125 miles (201 km) downriver from St. Louis, the floodwater was expected to crest at 47.5 feet (14 m) on Sunday, more than 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) above the 1995 record, the NWS said.

Major flooding continued in the state of Arkansas along the Arkansas River and its tributaries.

Arkansas officials said they expected the river, which bisects the state from west to southeast before joining the Mississippi, to crest late on Saturday.

Large swaths of parkland in Little Rock along the river were covered with floodwaters, and some homes and farmland in the Arkansas Delta were flooded on Saturday.

Signs that floodwaters were headed south began to emerge as the NWS issued a major flooding designation on Saturday for Osceola, Arkansas, where the Mississippi River reached above 35 feet (10.7 m), well above the 28-foot flood stage.

The NWS also on Saturday warned communities in the Southern Mississippi Valley region of potential flooding during the next 10 days.

Officials in Louisiana are checking levees daily, and Exxon Mobil Corp has decided to shut its 340,571 barrel-per-day refined products terminal in Memphis, Tennessee, as floodwaters threatened to inundate the facility just south of the city's downtown.

Workers in southwestern Tennessee prepared sandbags in hopes of limiting damage from the Mississippi when it crests at Memphis next week, state emergency management officials said.

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