ROLLA, Mo. — Heavy thunderstorms early Wednesday hit already saturated areas of south-central Missouri, where one child has been reported killed and a woman remains missing in flooding that also has forced the closure of major highways and a handful of evacuations.
The Missouri Department of Transportation closed Interstate 44 south of Rolla along the Gasconade River, and U.S. 63 in Maries County after about 6 inches of rain fell in the area early Wednesday. Traffic was being rerouted several miles around the flooded sections of the highways, said Sgt. Dan Crain, spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol in Rolla.
The National Weather Service said the Gasconade River at Rich Fountain was about 4 feet below flood stage, the point at which water is high enough to cause flooding, early Wednesday. It was expected to reach its 20-foot flood stage later Wednesday and rise to near 32 feet early Thursday, depending on how much more rain hits the area.
"It's a real mess," Crain said. "We're encouraging folks to be really careful. When there's water over the roads, don't take the chance. Don't take the risk. Please turn around."
Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday also ordered the deployment of 50 military policemen of the Missouri National Guard to help local authorities dealing with flooding. Nixon declared a state of emergency Tuesday after heavy rains caused flash flooding and at least one confirmed death in the Waynesville area.
A 4-year-old boy was killed and several homes and businesses damaged after heavy rain drenched the south-central town of Waynesville on Monday night and Tuesday morning. Crain said the search for a missing woman who is believed to be the child's mother will resume as soon as conditions allow, but water levels were too high and currents too swift to continue the search early Wednesday.
About a dozen homes also were evacuated early Wednesday in Newburg, a Phelps County town of about 450 residents near the Little Piney River. Laura Johnson, supervisor with the Phelps County Sheriff's Department, said a 12-foot section of a county road washed away Wednesday morning. No injuries were reported.
"We have a lot of roads shut down now," Johnson said. The rain had stopped Wednesday morning in several areas, including Newburg, and water had begun receding in some flooded sections, she said.
The weather service also issued flood warnings Wednesday for several southwestern Missouri counties, including Laclede and Wright counties, where several low-water crossings were also flooding after about 2 inches of rain fell in that region by early Wednesday.