A rare winter flood pushed swollen rivers and streams to virtually unheard-of heights Tuesday, sparking widespread evacuations. Inmates were transferred from an Illinois state prison, and Missouri's governor activated the National Guard to help divert traffic away from submerged roads. The US Army Corps of Engineers said water from the rising Mississippi River and its tributaries threatened to spill over 19 federal levees, putting hundreds of homes in jeopardy. The Meramec River near St. Louis was expected to get to more than 3 feet above the previous record by late this week. At least 18 deaths in Missouri and Illinois were blamed on flooding, mostly involving vehicles that drove onto swamped roadways.
More than 500 residents of West Alton, Missouri, were ordered evacuated Tuesday as the Mississippi River spilled over the top of one levee. In Union, Missouri, water from the normally docile Bourbeuse River reached the roofs of a McDonald's—it was nearly 20 feet above flood stage. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon activated the National Guard to assist with security in evacuated areas and to help keep road closure sites clear. In southern Illinois, the Department of Corrections transferred an unspecified number of inmates from a state prison to other locations because of flooding risks. The facility houses nearly 3,700 inmates. This December flood is highly unusual. The Mississippi River is expected to reach nearly 15 feet above flood stage on Thursday at St. Louis, which would be the second-worst flood on record. (Read more severe weather stories.)