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Rivers cresting in St. Louis area

Flood waters freezing cold

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Deidre Engelman thought about making a sandbag wall to keep the rising Meramec River from her St. Louis-area home, but she was out of time.

So she grabbed what possessions she could and left her home in Arnold, one of many Midwestern communities struggling with floodwater after the region was deluged in storms last week

The swollen Mississippi River was cresting in St. Louis on Friday, as flood warnings still covered areas where 9.3 million people live in 17 states.

"The water was going to be higher than we could possibly build in time, so we all decided we were going to get a U-Haul truck, pack it up and leave," Engelman told CNN affiliate KMOV on Thursday.

The Meramec, which meets the Mississippi near Arnold, crested at 47.2 feet Thursday, about 9 feet above what is considered a major flood stage in the community of about 20,000. Sandbags saved some homes there, but about 10 were flooded, with one home getting about 7 feet of water, KMOV reported.

A week ago, bad weather spread across the country, starting with a spate of tornadoes. By the weekend, the Midwest was flooded. The clouds have long cleared out, and no more rain is expected in the Mississippi River basin until late next week. But runoff has swelled rivers, and in areas south of St. Louis, they have yet to crest.

Water has submerged neighborhoods, schools and shopping centers, and carried off whole houses. The storms have killed 14 people in Missouri and eight in Illinois, officials have said. Many of those who died drove into high, rushing water and were carried away in their cars.

Water tops levee in southern Illinois

It appears that floodwater has only just begun to menace residents of far southern Illinois, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers have yet to crest.

Water went over the top of a levee in southern Illinois' Alexander County, prompting people to evacuate areas near the levee, the office of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said Friday.

In Alexander County's seat of Cairo, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet, the Ohio is expected to crest Sunday at 56.5 feet, more than 3 feet above major flooding stage.

On Thursday, the flooding breached a St. Louis-area wastewater treatment plant near the Meramec River -- the second such breach there in a week -- sending untreated waste into the river. Missouri American Water spokeswoman Ann Dettmer said the water in homes and businesses in the area still is safe to use.

"We are seeing higher levels of bacteria in the river water ... but we're managing it," she told CNN.

Other plants are treating the river water, she said. "We are meeting state and federal standards. They don't have to worry about their drinking water."

Roads cut off; I-44 and I-55 reopened

Flooding has buried streets around St. Louis. In the town of Valley Park, a lake of floodwater glistened under a sunny sky Friday morning. It covered a road that goes under Interstate 44.

But by Friday afternoon, all portions of I-44 and Interstate 55 in the St. Louis area had been reopened. Parts of those highways, including a 24-mile stretch of I-44, were closed because of flooding earlier this week.

River crest records

At its peak, the Mississippi should be at its highest level ever, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has said, beating the highest level of the great flood of 1993, the benchmark for flood catastrophes in the region.

As the runoff from the deluges that hit around Christmas continues gathering in rivers that empty into the Mississippi River, downstream, gauges are predicting flooding in areas farther south as deep torrents roll that way -- in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, in early January.

Communities along the Mississippi River in southern Illinois and southern Missouri are expected to see the river rise to record levels into early next week.

Hundreds of miles to the south, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the river is expected to crest above flood stage on January 19.