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Midwest weather: Missouri Gov. Nixon warns of 'historic' water levels

Officials say at least 13 people have died in Missouri and Kansas so far due to the flooding.
By Amy R. Connolly, Marilyn Malara and Doug G. Ware   |   Dec. 29, 2015 at 8:44 PM
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon warned his residents parts of the state might see "historic" and "dangerous" flood waters that will rival those that overran the banks of the Mississippi River 22 years ago.

Nixon delivered the remarks in a news conference Tuesday, during which he warned residents about rising floodwaters and advised them to take appropriate precautions to stay safe.

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"Missouri is in the midst of a very historic and dangerous flooding event," he said. "The amount of rain we have received, in some places in excess of a foot, has caused river levels to not only rise rapidly, but to go to places they have never been before."

Tuesday, Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard to support emergency personnel and guard communities in the waters' paths. The move comes two days after floodwaters prompted him to declare a state of emergency.

"As rivers rise to record levels, we are continuing to support Missouri communities and protect public safety during this historic flooding event," he said in a statement. "These citizen soldiers will provide much-needed support to state and local first responders, many of whom have spent the last several days working around the clock responding to record rainfall and flooding."

The Mississippi River topped a levee just north of St. Louis on Tuesday, prompting authorities to call for the immediate evacuation of the city of West Alton.

The Rivers Pointe Fire Protection District said earlier the city would be inaccessible due to a major highway and other routes that were compromised by the breached levee.

Alton, Ill., located directly across the Mississippi River from West Alton, was also expected to see record water levels, as the river was forecast to reach 17 feet above flood stage by Thursday.

Meanwhile, officials in Chester, Ill., were forced to begin transferring some inmates to other facilities when the lower level of a prison there began to flood. It wasn't clear how many of the prison's 3,700 inmates would be moved, NBC News reported.

Officials said the river should reach its second-highest level in history -- surpassing the 43-foot mark set in 1973, but remain below the all-time record of 49-feet set in 1993. About 50,000 homes were destroyed in nine states during that flood and damage was estimated at as much as $20 million.

"All of us remember the devastating impact of the Great Flood of 1993 and that's why we have been working proactively with our local and federal partners to prepare and respond," Nixon said. "Our state emergency management team will continue to work hand-in-hand with local officials to ensure they have the resources they need to protect their communities."

Officials said at least 13 people have died so far in connection with the flooding in Missouri and neighboring Kansas. Nixon mentioned during a press conference Monday that recovery efforts were underway for three people who were killed when their vehicles were swept away by floodwaters.

The Spring River, the 129-mile waterway that cuts through Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, was also expected to rise past flooding stage.

"The threat is clearly not over," Nixon said. "I would ask folks not to lose their focus."

Missouri officials continue to monitor 280 state roads closed due to flooding and areas bordering the Mississippi River south of St. Louis from flooding threats.

The National Weather Service said the storm system, which also left 11 dead in a series of tornadoes in Texas, will continue to move toward the northeast and bring heavy rain and snow.

"A significant amount of snow is forecast across northern New England, where total accumulations of 12 to 18 inches are expected," forecasters said. "Freezing rain is likely across central and southern New England where up to a quarter of an inch of ice can be expected. Farther south, rain moving across the Eastern U.S. could lead to flash flooding in the southeastern states where local amounts of two to four inches are possible into Wednesday morning."

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