Frantic fight against floods swamping US towns

Chicago (AFP) –


Soldiers and volunteers packed sand bags Wednesday in a frantic effort to stave off floodwaters that have already swamped several small towns and claimed thirteen lives in the US state of Missouri.

"We've never seen water this high," Missouri Governor Jay Nixon told CNN.

"We're in a massive flood fight."

The mighty Mississippi River is already more than 14 feet (4.2 meters) above flood stage in some areas and is forecast to rise another eight feet (2.4 meters) before cresting on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

"It is absolutely devastating and we're begging for help," said Don Smith, the mayor of Rockaway Beach, a small resort town in the southern part of the state.

"I don't even know how we're going to deal with the cleanup," Smith told CNN.

"One of the business owners has an antique shop: there were minnows inside."

The images shown by local media were dramatic.

Muddy water inundated homes and businesses nearly to the rooftops. Hundreds of volunteers formed human chains to spread sandbags on levees before the rapidly rising water could overtop them.

One man who tried to drive his truck through the floodwaters was rescued from a rooftop.

A dozen other motorists were not so lucky, Nixon said, as he urged residents to stay out of the frigid and fast-moving floodwaters.

"It's cold," the governor said. "It's dangerous."

So far the flooding has only affected small towns and rural areas.

But the Mississippi is forecast to approach or even exceed record highs in the heavily-populated St. Louis area on Thursday and Nixon said he is "very concerned" about the safety of residents there.

"You don't know where that water is going to go."

The flooding began last week after a massive storm system dumped as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain in some parts of the state.

Nixon declared a state of emergency on Sunday and called in the National Guard Tuesday to help overwhelmed local officials deal with the rare winter flooding.

Neighboring Illinois has also been hard-hit. The storm and flooding claimed the lives of five people and a state of emergency was declared in seven counties.

"We are committed to help local responders in these and other impacted counties ensure the safety of people affected by this unusual December flooding," Governor Bruce Rauner said.

The United States has been hit by a wave of wild weather that has claimed at least 49 lives and stranded millions trying to get home after the Christmas holiday.

The monster storm unleashed rare December tornadoes, flash flooding and freezing rain. It killed 11 people in Texas, 10 people in Mississippi and six in Tennessee.

Alabama reported two storm-related deaths while Arkansas and Georgia each blamed one death on the nasty weather.