Tornadoes, Flooding Blamed for at Least 16 Deaths

Some areas of Missouri were drenched with up to 12 inches of rain over the weekend

Sixteen months after a rare Christmas week flood devastated towns along the Meramec River near St. Louis, sandbags were rapidly piling up again Monday as the small but flood-prone river streamed over its banks, part of the aftermath of brutal weekend storms that also includes an ongoing search for two missing children in Arkansas.

Severe storms spawned tornadoes in the South, flooding in the Midwest and even a rare mid-spring snowstorm in the plains. At least 16 people died, and authorities are still searching for two children in Arkansas swept away by floodwaters and now presumed dead.

It's not over yet. Parts of the U.S. Midwest and South braced for more flooding and possible tornadoes as storms rolled eastward in a band stretching from Alabama into the Ohio River valley.

Some areas of Missouri were drenched with up to 12 inches of rain over the weekend. Normally docile creeks swelled to dangerous levels, and river levels jumped. The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency counted 143 water rescues statewide but acknowledged that countless others probably weren't reported. Hundreds of people were evacuated,, a levee was topped in a rural area northwest of St. Louis, and a 57-mile stretch of Interstate 44 was closed.

The Mississippi River was well above flood stage at several points, including Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where it is expected to crest later this week within a half-foot of the all-time record of 48.9 feet.

Near Cape Girardeau, residents of tiny Allenville were urged to evacuate, but many did not, even as the town was surrounded by water. The only way in or out was by boat.

"The old-timers, they know how the river reacts," Cape Girardeau County emergency management director Richard Knaup said. "They're old swampers, let me tell you. They're good country folks. They'd sooner take care of themselves than depend on the government."

Hundreds of people spent Monday sandbagging Missouri towns along the Meramec. Eureka police Sgt. David Sindel said 30 to 50 homes in his town are endangered, along with about a dozen businesses as the river is expected to reach within half-a-foot of the 2015 record.

"Unfortunately, it's Mother Nature and I guess there's not much we can do about it," Sindel said.

More severe weather was expected in the South. A wind advisory was in effect in northwest Mississippi. Tornado warnings were issued for parts of southeastern Alabama and central Georgia Monday morning by the National Weather Service. Parts of the Florida Panhandle could be affected by severe thunderstorms or high winds and dangerous rip currents.

The confirmed death toll rose to 16. Flash floods in Missouri were blamed in the deaths of a 77-year-old man, an 18-year-old man and a 72-year-old woman, whose husband desperately tried to save her before their car was swept away.

In Arkansas, six confirmed deaths didn't include the two missing children who were inside a truck with their mother on Saturday when the vehicle was swept off a bridge near Hindsville, about 130 miles northwest of Little Rock. The body of a kayaker was recovered Monday, a day after he'd gone missing near Little Rock. A fire chief in Arkansas died when he was struck by a vehicle while working the storm.

The mayor of the small town of Pocahontas, Arkansas, ordered an evacuation Monday as the Black River rose toward an expected record crest of 29.5 feet on Friday — a foot above the record set in 2011.

Four people died in tornadoes in Texas on Saturday. It could have been worse. Several men worked frantically in an area 50 miles from Dallas to pull a man and two young children from an overturned pickup in rushing water. Cellphone video showed a man holding the limp body of an infant. The man who shot the video, Tom Mitchell, told WFAA-TV that the infant was revived. The father and second child are recovering.

Two died in Mississippi: a 7-year-old boy electrocuted after unplugging an electric golf cart and dropping the cord in a puddle, and a man killed when a tree fell onto his house, knocking a beam into his head.

In Tennessee, a 2-year-old girl died after being struck by a soccer goal post thrown by heavy winds on Sunday. Wind and flood advisories remained in effect for much of the state Monday.

In Illinois, prison inmates were helping with sandbagging in the towns of Murphysboro and Desoto.

In western Kansas, tens of thousands of people lost electricity after up to 20 inches of snow fell, accompanied by winds up to 60 mph. The storm briefly shut down Interstate 70, and National Guard teams were called out at least 40 times to rescue stranded motorists.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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