(NEW YORK) — Rivers cresting at record highs are causing widespread flooding in the Midwest, wreaking havoc in multiple states after a prolonged storm system ravaged the area.
Nearly 40 river gauges are in a major flood stage from Texas to Illinois, while waters from the Mississippi River and its tributaries have spilled over nine levees in the St. Louis area.
A total of 22 flood-related deaths have been reported in Missouri and Illinois. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said all but one of the 14 people who died in the state were in vehicles on flooded roadways, while two people were reported missing in Illinois.
In the South, most flood watches will have dropped by late Thursday morning, but will remain in parts of Georgia and Florida as heavy rain showers spark scattered flooding. The areas are already saturated with water, so it won’t take much rainfall or cause minor flooding in some areas.
The good news is that rainfall isn’t expected in the flood-ravaged areas for several days.
A 24-mile stretch of I-44 remains closed in Missouri, where the Mississippi and Meramec rivers caused extreme flooding in towns near St. Louis. I-55 was closed overnight at the St. Louis/Jefferson County line. Hundreds of smaller highways and roads were closed across Missouri and Illinois.
The Meramec River has already crested in Pacific and Eureka, Missouri after rising more than 35 feet in three days. It was expected to crest in Valley Park, Missouri Thursday morning and in Arnold, Missouri later in the day.
At times, the river is cresting more than 25 feet above flood stage. The Eureka Fire Department has rescued dozens of people and several pets from the second stories of homes near the Meramec River. A building was seen floating down the Meramec River after it broke free from its structure, he said.
Untreated sewage is seeping into the Meramec River after its waters overwhelmed a treatment plant in Fenton, Missouri.
Residents near High Ridge, Missouri are being told to conserve water after a water treatment center shut down from overflow of the Meramec River. About 20,000 people are without drinking water in the area.
Nixon declared a state of emergency Sunday and activated the Missouri National Guard Tuesday.
The Mississippi River near St. Louis and southern Illinois is expected to crest Thursday night and is expected to crest in Chester, Illinois on Saturday. Waters from the Mississippi River have already risen to the level or will exceed the levees in Chester, Grand Tower and Thebes, Illinois, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has added a total of 12 counties to the state disaster declaration for widespread flooding.
“While the rains have stopped, we’re continuing to see more communities battling flood waters in order to protect their residents and critical facilities,” Gov. Rauner said in a release.
Mississippi has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of flooding expected late next week. Preparations are taking place in parts of Mississippi and the Memphis, Tennessee area for the Mississippi River to crest at historic levels there on or after Jan. 8.
The Arkansas River is also experiencing flooding at the Toad Suck Lock and Damn, while Lake Tenkiller near Tulsa, Oklahoma had risen 34 feet above normal Thursday morning.
Flooding has also been reported in North and South Carolina after several inches of rainfall when the weather system that rocked the Midwest moved east. Water rescues were reported Wednesday in Albemarle, North Carolina due to high flood waters.
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