KANSAS CITY (Missouri) • Swollen rivers in the US Midwest and other regions have sparked flood warnings for over 12 million Americans as scores of buildings were submerged after days of intense rain in which 24 people have died.
Two rivers west of St Louis crested at historic levels, flooding local towns, disabling sewer plants and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents. Other major rivers, including the Mississippi, are expected to reach record highs as floodwaters rush towards the Gulf of Mexico, the National Weather Service said.
The flooding has closed many roads and parts of Interstate 44, a major artery running from west Texas to St Louis. It poses a threat to livestock and crops in farm areas stretching from Illinois to Louisiana.
Water rose to the rooftops of homes and businesses in Missouri, where Governor Jay Nixon called the flooding "historic and dangerous".
Mr Nixon spoke with President Barack Obama on Wednesday and received a pledge of federal support.
In Tiptonville, Tennessee, residents were watching the Mississippi rise, and some lowland cotton fields had already been flooded and farms evacuated.
"We shut all the floodgates last night here. People near the river already are moving furniture and valuables to a higher ground," said Mr Dewayne Haggard, manager of the Food Rite grocery and a member of the Tiptonville City Board. "One day alone, we had 10 inches (25cm) of rain. Pray for us."
Further south, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency as the waters moved towards his state. Flash flood warnings were issued for parts of the Carolinas and Georgia.
At least 24 people have died, mostly from driving into flooded areas, in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Oklahoma after days of downpours with as much as 30cm of rain.
Historic floods on the Mississippi in 1993, 1995 and 2011 occurred during warm weather, after snow melted in the north. AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski called it highly unusual to have heavy flooding in winter and said it could presage trouble for the spring.
Agriculture experts said water standing more than a week could kill the soft red winter wheat crop. Export premiums for corn and soya beans were at their highest levels in weeks because of stalled barge traffic on swollen rivers.
Livestock also has been hard hit. About 2,500 hogs drowned in an Illinois barn after a creek overflowed its banks, said Ms Jennifer Tirey, a spokesman for the state's Pork Producers Association. "There was no electricity and roads were impassable. It was just impossible to get to those pigs," she said.