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It's still incredibly difficult to get around parts of the Midwest because of record flooding. Illinois and Missouri have been hit particularly hard with at least 20 deaths now reported. Riverside towns have been swamped. Highways have been closed. Trains and even oil pipelines have been shut down. St. Louis Public Radio's Durrie Bouscaren sent this report.
DURRIE BOUSCAREN, BYLINE: I'm here, standing on a picnic table in Pacific Missouri. It's a small town about 30 miles outside of St. Louis. The sound you're hearing to my left is a bright orange pump that's just taking water and pushing it out as fast as it can. Usually people come here to hike the sandstone cliffs or kayak on the Meramec River, but that river is - has now overflowed its banks. It's just inundated the southern half of this town.
BROOKLYN: Mommy, Mommy, there's a...
JODI HOWARD: Oh, yeah - helicopter.
BOUSCAREN: Jodi Howard is holding her daughter Brooklyn as they survey the damage. The family evacuated without packing. Brooklyn turned three at a Red Cross shelter set up at a senior center.
HOWARD: They brought her a cake, and people brought her gifts. And that was so nice. I think she had a good birthday (laughter), even after all this. I mean, she keeps saying, every time we're at the hotel, I want to go home (laughter).
BOUSCAREN: About 8 inches of rain fell in just a few days, and in Pacific, the river came up fast, cresting at more than 28 feet above flood stage, 4 feet higher than the highest flood on record in 1982. At a Red Cross shelter on higher ground, Jean Scott says she and her sister Jeanette were surprised by a knock on their door by a rescuer with a raft.
JEAN SCOTT: We had three steps (unintelligible) porch. It was already on our third step. They came into the back door. And I thought - I woke my sister up, said, hey, we got to go.
BOUSCAREN: They only had time to grab a few clothes. Their whole life is in the trailer. Scott forgot her glasses.
SCOTT: I'm not sure what's going to happen. Our trailer will probably be condemned, and we've got nowhere to go.
BOUSCAREN: Other towns are flooded, too, and seven emergency shelters have been opened. In Fenton, a wastewater treatment plant was overrun. Sean Hadley of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District says it had to be shut down.
SEAN HADLEY: That plant processes 6.75 million gallons a day. At the time of the shutdown, it was processing 24 million gallons, which is well over the capacity that it was designed to handle.
BOUSCAREN: That means millions of gallons of untreated sewage are now passing into the river and eventually into the Mississippi. Transit is also choked. Parts of two interstates have gone underwater, and two sections of Union Pacific tracks are out of service. Amtrak is rerouting passengers on buses.
Talk to any Midwesterner, and each flood year is likely etched into their memory. You'll hear about 1982, 1983, 2008, but those are usually in the spring or summer. This is a rare winter flood. Luckily, it's been a warm December. If the ground was frozen, flooding would likely be much worse. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who has activated the National Guard, says it's more water than he's ever seen.
JAY NIXON: You've got more water, higher water than you had in '93 in many locations, which means this is very dangerous. You've already had a number of deaths. And we're out there trying to not only help manage the situation but to save lives.
BOUSCAREN: In Pacific, the waters are not expected to recede for a couple days. Right now, attention is turning downstream, where the Mississippi River is expected to crest in Southern Missouri over the next days. For NPR News, I'm Durrie Bouscaren in St. Louis.
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