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Flood Conditions To Worsen In Missouri


Let's listen now to a governor managing an emergency. Flooding has killed at least 20 people in Illinois and Missouri. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency. We reached him as his state braces for more.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

JAY NIXON: Thank you. Clearly we're in historic times here. We have - one of the tributaries of the Mississippi River is a river called the Merrimack. And the crest areas there - they're going to be a number of feet, 2, 3, 4, over what they were in '93 or '82. And on the Mississippi River itself, down below St. Louis, we're still projecting a couple of feet over that historic number. So the bottom line is there's a significant amount of water that's causing evacuations and challenges throughout that whole area.

MONTAGNE: Well, we are hearing at this point that there's a pretty dramatic event, five rivers converging.

NIXON: Yeah, right around - you're just downstream from where the Missouri and the Mississippi meet is what I'm talking about, where the Merrimack River is. But all that area - if you recall back to '93, that county was 48 percent underwater at that time. And we're talking about numbers here that are above that. So we have a tremendous amount of water where the two greatest rivers in North America meet. And then all of the tributaries from the various areas come in there also. It's also highly populated. So we're working a number of water rescues. We're working extremely hard to keep people safe and make sure that we're keeping the rule of law and keep people warm. It's been pretty cold.

MONTAGNE: Well, if you would, paint us a picture for those of us outside the region of what you've been seeing, what you've been hearing.

NIXON: Well, late into the night, we were fighting to save a water treatment plant at High Ridge. That's 20,000 people's water. We were not ended up being successful in that. The water overtopped that. Twenty-thousand people around St. Louis, now we're going to have to get water to take care of them and bring that in for our state of emergency management. Currently, we're not only evacuating people from towns where evacuation order happens, but we're also taking boats in to remove them from their roofs.

MONTAGNE: Yes, I gather one of the sad things is that many of the fatalities are people and families in their cars trying to escape the flood and get caught up in it.

NIXON: I mean, the power of water to lift cars is amazing. Of the deaths we already had, 12 of them are directly because people drove into water. Day before yesterday in Neosho, Mo., to show the power of the water for folks out there, a creek backed up near a railroad track. And an entire train was lifted off of the railroad track and dumped over. People just need to make sure they do not drive into water. It floats the cars, and then we have deaths because of it.

MONTAGNE: If you don't mind us speaking of your neighboring state - because Illinois is also very much hit by these floods that they are doing all kinds of things, one of them, evacuating a maximum-security prison.

NIXON: Yeah, down south in that area talking about across from Chester, Ill., that's where the Marion prison is. And they're having to move inmates out of there. We're using inmates to help sandbag in some areas. We have folks that watch them very carefully, but they've been a good work crew in some areas near our prisons that have been helpful. But that's a security threat, one of the reasons why we've kept most of our prisons on higher ground. It's a very difficult thing to do on short time, and the security involved there is extremely challenging.

MONTAGNE: Am I correct in saying that even if it does not rain in the next couple of days, the rivers are going to rise?

NIXON: Absolutely. We do not expect any rain in the next few days. We're in a dry period here. While its cloudy; it is not raining, all of the estimates we see now are based on water that's already on the ground. Once water hits the ground, they're very, very good at measuring what the levels will be. And that's what's got everybody so concerned. When you see historic levels - 1993 was a 500-year flood. And we're talking about levy levels here, water levels that are 2 to 3 feet above that in some communities.

MONTAGNE: Well, Governor Nixon, you were born and raised there in Missouri. Is this flooding the new normal, no more 500 years?

NIXON: Well, let's certainly hope not. But we don't have time right now for a debate about the new normal or a discussion about what global warming does to these things. What we have is a great number of people working extremely hard to make sure that death number stays where it is and the people that have to go to shelters are taken care of tonight and for as many days as it takes and that we support our first responders that are out there keeping security.

MONTAGNE: Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, good luck to you.

NIXON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.