Illinois-Missouri death toll in historic floods at 20; four missing

AP

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.

Swollen rivers and streams, already high from a wet late fall, were pushed to heights not seen in nearly a quarter-century after more than 10 inches (25 cm) of rain fell this week in a wide swath from central Illinois through southwest Missouri.

While St. Louis itself was not flooded, hundreds of homes in its southwestern suburbs were damaged and residents in hundreds of others had to leave as water approached the tops of levees. Other spots being threatened were just farmland or now-deserted land.

The good news Thursday: The Missouri, Meramec and Mississippi rivers were cresting throughout the region.

Long stretches of two highways were closed, and other forms of transportation were equally problematic. Amtrak officials halted the St. Louis-to-Kansas City train on Thursday, and 5-mile (8-km) stretch of the Mississippi River that was closed at St. Louis halted barge traffic.

At least 20 deaths over several days in Missouri and Illinois were blamed on flooding, mostly involving vehicles that drove onto swamped roadways, and at least four people were still missing Thursday.

In Eureka, southwest of St. Louis, firefighters and their boats have been in high demand since Tuesday, accounting for roughly four dozen rescues of people in their homes, businesses or vehicles.

In Illinois, where seven of the flooding deaths occurred, the search for two missing 18-year-olds resumed Thursday with dive crews surveying a flooded lake where the cellphone of one of the teens was tracked.