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Deaths mount from U.S. weather

After outbreak, South, Midwest brace for more flooding by Jim Salter The Associated Press | May 2, 2017 at 3:22 a.m. | Updated May 2, 2017 at 3:22 a.m.
Dee Andre Johnson, 48, hauls off branches Monday that fell on his neighbor’s house Sunday morning during a possible tornado that swept through Durant, Miss.

ST. LOUIS -- Parts of the Midwest and South braced for more flooding Monday in the wake of weekend storms, tornadoes and flooding that proved fatal.

The outbreak that began Saturday over much of the region included at least four tornadoes in Texas and severe flooding caused by more than a foot of rain in parts of Missouri. The storm even spawned a rare midspring snowstorm in Kansas.

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 numerous 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, Mo., 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 a half-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.

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.

In Arkansas, there were seven confirmed deaths.

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 De Soto.

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.

Two died in Mississippi: a 7-year-old boy electrocuted after unplugging an electric golf cart and dropping the cord in a puddle, and a man killed when a tree fell onto his house.

National Weather Service surveyors have already confirmed seven tornadoes in Mississippi, and Gov. Phil Bryant said the total could rise to as many as 20.

More than 11,000 customers around the state remained without power as of Monday afternoon. And in hard-hit Durant, Mayor Tasha Davis said it could be up to a week before repairs on a substation that supplies power to the 900 customers of the city-owned electrical system.

The town of 2,700, about 60 miles north of Jackson, suffered some of the worst damage from Sunday's storms.

Durant residents picked through debris Monday for anything salvageable. Basketball players from Holmes Community College were stacking cinderblocks outside a store. Farther along, Dee Andre Johnson was hauling branches out of his yard.

"I opened my door and saw it coming down the highway," Johnson said of the storm. "There was a lot of compressing in it, a lot of pressure. It touched down and jumped up several times."

The storm caused minor damage to Johnson's house, but ripped the porch and a bedroom away from a neighbor's house. Early estimates show at least 100 houses in Durant were hit.

"We have damage on every street," Davis said.

Making things more complicated, Davis said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann advised town officials that they cannot postpone city elections scheduled for today.

"Now we're looking for flashlights" to assist in counting ballots, Davis said.

Information for this article was contributed by Jeff Amy, Rogelio V. Solis and staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 05/02/2017

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