Heavy rains unleash deadly Midwest flooding

August 9, 2013 8:08:20 AM PDT
Torrential rains continued across the nation's midsection on Thursday, causing flash flooding that killed a woman and a child, damaged homes and forced multiple water rescues.

Up to 10 inches of rain pounded southern Missouri overnight. A woman died near Jane, Mo., in the far southwestern corner of the state where creek water washed over a highway, sweeping away her car.

"Early this morning it just unleashed," said Greg Sweeten, emergency management director in McDonald County, Mo.

Authorities in the south-central Missouri town of Waynesville continued to search for 23-year-old Jessica D. Lee, whose car was swept up in a flash flood early Tuesday. The body of her 4-year-old son, Elyjah, was found Tuesday, hours after his mother made a distress call from her cell phone.

Flash flood warnings were common in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. And things could get worse: Heavy rain is in the forecast into the weekend.

National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Albert in Springfield, Mo., said the rain is the result of a storm front that has stalled over the plains.

"Those upper level winds really aren't pushing the front anywhere, so it's kind hanging there," Albert said.

Missouri has gotten the worst of it. Some gauges near Waynesville recorded 15 inches of rain in a two-day period. One-day totals of 6 inches or more were common across the width of the southern part of the Show-Me State.

The area near the tourist boom town of Branson, Mo., was hit especially hard early Thursday. At least 100 homes and businesses in Hollister, Mo., right next to Branson, were damaged when Turkey Creek flooded. Taney County's assistant emergency management director, Melissa Duckworth, said 26 people had to be rescued by boat, mostly from two mobile home parks. Another 50 evacuated on their own.

Boats also were brought in to rescue 15 campers who were spending the night on an island in the Elk River near the McDonald County, Mo., town of Noel. In fact, the county boat rescuing them broke down, and the rescuers themselves had to be saved by a boat from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Sweeten said.

In Waynesville, authorities assume that Lee didn't survive.

"As rapid as that water was it was like a raging river," Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long said, who said the normally docile creek became akin to "a Class V whitewater river."

Interstate 44 near Jerome in south-central Missouri reopened Thursday after flood waters receded, but dozens of other roadways were closed in southern Missouri.

Other states had plenty of problems, too.

Soggy south-central Kansas was under a flood warning after up to 6 inches of rain fell early Thursday in the center of the state. Since the storms began Sunday, hundreds of Kansas homes have been damaged, mostly by water in basements and sewage backups, said Megan Hammersmith, director of the Central Kansas Chapter of the American Red Cross.

An estimated 10 inches of rain fell overnight in parts of Benton County, Ark., prompting the county to declare an emergency. Benton County Emergency Management director Robert McGowen said crews have performed 15 water rescues. More than three dozen roads and bridges were closed, but no injuries were reported.

Heavy rain in Tennessee also triggered flash flooding that required several water rescues. Nashville firefighters waded into waist-deep water to lead residents of one apartment complex to higher ground. Others in the region had to be rescued from balconies and rooftops. High water even stopped traffic near the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.

In Oklahoma, Joe Dan Morgan, emergency management director for Ottawa County said up to 6 inches of rain caused flash flooding in the Miami area, and more rain was coming.

"There's not much we can do, sit and wait," Morgan said. "We've warned everybody to be careful. When you're in low-lying areas use that old adage, 'turn around, don't drown."

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AP reporters Maria Sudekum Fisher in St. Louis and Ken. A Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.


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