15 dead after tornadoes, floods ravage Midwest, South

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Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Several southern states braced for more severe weather Monday in the wake of storms, tornadoes and flooding that claimed 16 lives and left authorities in Arkansas searching for two children swept away by raging waters

The outbreak that began Saturday over much of the U.S. Midwest and South included at least four tornadoes in Texas and severe flooding after more than a foot of rain fell in parts of Missouri. The storm even spawned a rare mid-spring snowstorm in Kansas.

It's not over yet. More flooding and tornadoes are possible as storms roll eastward in a band stretching from Alabama into the Ohio River valley. A wind advisory was in effect over much of the South. Parts of the Florida Panhandle could be affected by severe thunderstorms or high winds and dangerous rip currents.

In Missouri, docile creeks swelled to dangerous levels, and river levels jumped after the downpours. The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency counted 143 water rescues statewide but acknowledged that countless others probably weren't reported. Hundreds of people were evacuated, a levee was topped in a rural area northwest of St. Louis, and a 57-mile stretch of Interstate 44 was closed.

The Mississippi River was well above flood stage at several points, including Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where it is expected to crest later this week within a half-foot of the all-time record of 48.9 feet.

Near Cape Girardeau, residents of tiny Allenville were urged to evacuate, but many did not, even as the town was surrounded by water. The only way in or out was by boat.

"The old-timers, they know how the river reacts," Cape Girardeau County emergency management director Richard Knaup said. "They're old swampers, let me tell you. They're good country folks. They'd sooner take care of themselves than depend on the government."

Hundreds of people spent Monday sandbagging Missouri towns along the Meramec River, just 16 months after record flooding along the suburban St. Louis waterway. Eureka police Sgt. David Sindel said 30 to 50 homes in his town are endangered, along with about a dozen businesses as the river is expected to reach within half-a-foot of the 2015 record.

"Unfortunately, it's Mother Nature and I guess there's not much we can do about it," Sindel said.

Flash floods in Missouri were blamed in the deaths of a 77-year-old man, an 18-year-old man and a 72-year-old woman, whose husband desperately tried to save her before their car was swept away.

In Arkansas, six confirmed deaths didn't include the two missing children who were inside a truck with their mother on Saturday when the vehicle was swept off a bridge near Hindsville, about 130 miles northwest of Little Rock. Authorities were still searching but conceded it was now likely a recovery, not a rescue, operation.

The body of a kayaker was recovered Monday, a day after he'd gone missing near Little Rock. A fire chief in Arkansas died when he was struck by a vehicle while working the storm.

The mayor of the small town of Pocahontas, Arkansas, ordered an evacuation Monday as the Black River rose toward an expected record crest of 29.5 feet on Friday - a foot above the record set in 2011.

Four people died in tornadoes in Texas on Saturday. It might have been more if not for the heroics of several men who worked frantically in an area 50 miles from Dallas to pull a man and two young children from an overturned pickup in rushing water. Cellphone video showed a man holding the limp body of an infant. The man who shot the video, Tom Mitchell, told WFAA-TV that the infant was revived. The father and second child are recovering.

One died in Mississippi: a man killed when a tree fell onto his house, knocking a beam into his head.

In Tennessee, a 2-year-old girl died after being struck by a soccer goal post thrown by heavy winds on Sunday.

In Illinois, prison inmates were helping with sandbagging in the towns of Murphysboro and Desoto.

In western Kansas, tens of thousands of people lost electricity after up to 20 inches of snow fell, accompanied by winds up to 60 mph. The storm briefly shut down Interstate 70, and National Guard teams were called out at least 40 times to rescue stranded motorists.