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Death Toll Rises in Missouri Floods, Threat Not Over

Officials were watching high water along levees in Missouri, and the state's governor pledged to rebuild damaged communities.
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The death toll from flooding in Missouri rose to 14 Wednesday, and at least two rivers rose higher than during devastating floods in 1993, officials said, but the region was bracing for more flooding.

While the Meramec River in Pacific, about 40 miles southwest of St. Louis, crested at lower levels than had been than feared, water remained high downstream and was expected to continue to rise elsewhere.

Water levels along a 30-mile levee in Perry County near the Mississippi River, where Sabreliner Aviation and other major employers are located, are dangerously high, Gov. Jay Nixon said. He said recovery could be prolonged.

"This is going to be a while. You don't have this much water over a place with a population and businesses and a lot of public assets and the water goes down. ... It's not over," Nixon said.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner, head of the Missouri National Guard, said Wednesday that "several hundred" Guard members had joined rescue, recovery and security task forces across the state. The Coast Guard restricted traffic on the Mississippi River from near Billings Landing, Missouri, to near Chester, Illinois.

In Valley Park, about 30 miles west of St. Louis, City Attorney Tim Engelmeyer told The Associated Press that computer projections put the water right up to the top of a levee. Parts of the 7,000 town have been evacuated.

"We're so close," he said. "We're talking about a potential 6-inch difference."

The recovery of the body of a driver whose car was swept away by floodwaters in Crawford County brought the death toll from the floods in Missouri to 14. Heavy rains that began over the weekend dumped more than a foot of rain in some parts of the state.

Most of the deaths occurred in the southern and southwestern parts of the state. Seven of the 14 deaths occurred in Pulaski County, officials said.

"If we can say one thing over and over and over, it would be don't drive in water," Nixon said. "Of the fatalities we have had, every one except one has been someone driving into the water."

Seven people have died in severe weather in Illinois, whose governor added five more counties Wednesday to those under a disaster declaration, for a total of 12.

A water treatment plant was flooded in High Ridge, Missouri, on Tuesday night, leaving 20,000 people without water, Nixon said. A 24-mile stretch of Interstate 44 west of St. Louis was closed in both directions Wednesday.

Nixon declared a state of emergency on Monday and activated the National Guard on Tuesday. He pledged help for inundated towns. President Barack Obama called Nixon for a briefing on the situation Wednesday and directed his staff to coordinate with the state on any federal assistance required, the White House said.

"We are here before the water rises. We're here after it falls," Nixon said. "We're here until this place is back to where it was before. And sometimes that takes a while."

Parts of the Meramec River were two to three feet higher than during a devastating flood in 1993, also known as the "Great Flood," Nixon said. The Mississippi River at Thebes, Illinois, reached two feet higher than in 1993, he said.