Soldiers hit the streets, hundreds urged to flee as death toll from US floods mounts

A member of the Missouri National Guard pumping water off a pavement on Dec 31, 2015.
A member of the Missouri National Guard pumping water off a pavement on Dec 31, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

CHICAGO (AFP) - The Illinois National Guard was ordered into action on Friday (Jan 1) and hundreds of people urged to flee rising floodwaters, as the death toll from days of heavy rain in the United States Midwest mounted.

Swathes of the United States have been buffeted in the last week by tornadoes, storms and torrential rain, while the US East Coast has seen unseasonably warm weather over the holiday season.

Missouri and Illinois have been particularly hard hit from the record-breaking and relentless deluge in the past week.

The death toll from the flooding in the Midwest rose to 23, CNN said. Fifteen of the dead were in Missouri and eight in Illinois.

But the toll could rise, with increasing concerns about the fate of two missing Illinois teenagers last seen several days ago.

One of them, Delia Ann Stacey, 18, was last heard of on Monday, when she sent a text message to her family saying simply "Help", the Herrin Police Department said in a statement on Facebook.

"Further contact with Stacey via her phone has been unsuccessful, as has the use of all resources available in determining its location," it said.

There were growing fears too for residents in southern Illinois, where the rising Mississippi River reportedly topped a levee, putting several towns and rural communities at risk.

Hundreds of people were urged to evacuate.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who toured some of the affected communities, tweeted: "I have ordered Illinois National Guard soldiers into active duty to aid local efforts to save lives and mitigate flood damage in Southern IL."

Forecasters warned that southern US states were in increasing danger in the days to come.

"Major flooding is occurring or forecast on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and tributaries in Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky, with record flooding at several locations," the National Weather Service said.

"Major flooding is also occurring on the Arkansas River and tributaries in Arkansas. Floodwaters will move downstream over the next couple of weeks, with significant river flooding expected for the lower Mississippi into mid-January."

There was some relief, however, in the St Louis area of Missouri, where flooding was at last receding.

For many, the big clean-up now begins. The more unfortunate saw their homes wiped out.

"We're just basically homeless. We have nowhere to go," Mr Damon Thorne, 44, told ABC News.

He and his 60-year-old mother Linda were staying at a Red Cross shelter at a church after their mobile home park in Arnold, Missouri was washed away by the surging Meramec River.