Floodwaters in the St. Louis area began receding Saturday, but officials warned of a massive cleanup in regions inundated after heavy rains swelled rivers in some areas to levels not seen since a devastating flood in 1993.
Most of emergency personnel, including the National Guard, were involved in debris after the floods that were blamed on at least 24 deaths in Missouri and Illinois — with 15 fatalities occurring in Missouri, a spokesman for that state’s governor said Saturday night.
Other crews were on standby in case flooding continues on the Mississippi River, from Cape Girardeau to the southeast corner of the state, spokesman Scott Holste said Saturday night.
There was no major flooding reported in Missouri as of Saturday night, Holste said, and what floodwaters remained are slowly receding.
"Before you can rebuild, you've got to remove the debris," Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said earlier from the waterlogged town of Eureka. He added that thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses had taken in rubble from the floodwaters.
More than 10 inches of rain fell on Missouri last weekend, causing rivers to spill their banks and shutting down sections of major highways, Interstates 55 and 44. Both roadways were reopened Friday, officials said.
The Mississippi River reached a record crest at Cape Girardeau Saturday morning, and has since started to drop slowly, Holste said.
"The healing process, the restoration process has begun," Chris Greenhagen, pastor of the Central Baptist Church in Eureka, Missouri, one of the communities hit by flooding along the Meramec River earlier this week, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Saturday, President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Missouri and ordered federal aid for the region, the White House said in a statement. The declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security to coordinate relief efforts.
In Illinois, nine people have died in the flooding. Gov. Bruce Rauner encouraged people to respect requests to evacuate.
"This is life-threatening," he told reporters at Carlyle Lake in Clinton County in southern Illinois. "It's not just the water; it's the temperature. Hypothermia is a big risk to people's lives."
The Illinois River continued to rise Saturday and could near historic crests Tuesday or Wednesday, Thomas Spriggs, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis, told the AP.
"It's still a very significant flood," he said Saturday. "It's going to be at major flood stage for the next three days."