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Fears of more deaths, devastation in flood-ravaged Missouri
by Staff Writers
Chicago (AFP) Dec 31, 2015

Paraguay villagers heap sandbags as flood threatens
Alberdi, Paraguay (AFP) Dec 31, 2015 - Residents of a Paraguayan village that risks being submerged in floodwater were defying authorities' calls to evacuate on Thursday as a nearby dike threatened to burst, officials said.

The Paraguay River bordering Argentina has broken its banks at various points in recent rainstorms, forcing 130,000 people from their homes.

But in the southeastern village of Alberdi, many of the 10,000 locals were hunkering down rather than shipping out.

Floodwater has transformed the village into an island.

"The dike is leaking. Water is gushing out of it and our experts say there is a big risk that it will burst open like a tsunami," the country's emergencies minister Joaquin Roa told AFP.

"There is a wall of water heading south. We cannot wait any longer. We have to evacuate."

Experts say the tropical extreme weather phenomenon known as El Nino and unseasonably hard rain are to blame for widespread flooding in South America in recent weeks.

Floods have displaced 170,000 people overall in Paraguay, neighboring Brazil and Argentina, and Uruguay, officials say. At least 12 people have been killed by flooding in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

Despite the risks, Alberdi's mayor, Federico Centurion, said about 50 families were not heeding his calls for them to evacuate.

"We are in the hands of God and the Virgin."

- Fearing a flood 'tragedy' -

Instead of fleeing, residents were piling up sandbags to protect their homes.

"The inhabitants of Alberdi do not want to believe that the dike can collapse," Centurion said.

"The speed of the water is striking. Added to that are the waves caused by big container boats that are constantly passing along the river. All of that is putting pressure on the dike."

One resident, shopkeeper Gabriela Gonzalez, reckoned however that "the authorities are exaggerating."

Disembarking from a boat in Alberdi with bags of merchandise, she said the water will not burst through the dike.

One of the soldiers helping evacuate villagers, Lieutenant Colonel Catalino Benitez, said they were meeting resistance among locals.

"They tell us, 'What happened in such-and-such a year was worse. That is their consolation," he said.

"They don't even like us to be here, although we have come to help."

Among those who did heed the warnings was Juana Vargas, who agreed to flee with her family across the river to the Argentine city of Formosa.

"We have not had a good Christmas," she told AFP.

"We have children. They are playing in the mud. There are mosquitoes. It's not safe to drink the water so they are getting sick," she said.

"I'm afraid there'll be a flood in the night while we are sleeping."

Roa said that if the river kept rising, he would "be obliged to apply to state prosecutors to order the use of force" to evacuate residents.

"If the dike breaks during the night, there will be a tragedy."

El Nino strikes every few years, associated with a sustained period of warming in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

Last month, the UN's World Meteorological Organization warned the current El Nino was the worst in more than 15 years, and one of the strongest since 1950.

Residents in the flood-ravaged US state of Missouri waited anxiously Thursday to see how high the mighty Mississippi River would rise, as the death toll from the record-breaking deluge rose to 14.

Hundreds of homes and businesses have been swallowed by the frigid, muddy waters. Scores of people have had to be rescued by boat -- including one man plucked from the roof of his home as it floated away.

Governor Jay Nixon pleaded with people to heed evacuation orders and stay off flooded roadways, after the body of a motorist who was swept off a road was recovered on Wednesday.

All but one of the state's 14 fatalities were caused by people driving into the floodwaters and Nixon has stationed troops at major road closures to help direct traffic and stop people from driving around barricades.

"This historic flooding event will continue to cause significant hazards and disruptions -- from Missourians being forced from their homes, to businesses temporarily closing, to traffic congestion and impacts on interstate commerce due to the closure of a major trucking corridor," Nixon said in a statement.

"I thank the many Missourians who are assisting their neighbors by providing rooms in their homes, helping with sandbagging efforts and countless other acts of kindness."

- House hits a bridge -

The Mississippi River was forecast to crest in the city of St. Louis late Thursday at more than 12 feet (3.8 meters) above flood stage. Towns further downriver are forecast to see a crest that will be nearly 20 feet above flood stage in the coming days, according to the National Weather Service.

The recovery will be long and costly, local officials feared.

The mayor of hard-hit Fenton, Missouri watched in horror as a house swept away by the floods struck a newly-built bridge.

"It was kind of our pride of a new bridge being built. And you see that house hit it, was very nerve wracking," Michael Polizzi told CNN.

"We're really concerned about that."

The flooding has been so widespread he doesn't even know whose home it was that struck the bridge. Thankfully, nobody has been reported missing so far from his suburban St. Louis town.

President Barack Obama called Nixon from Hawaii, where he is on vacation, to offer federal assistance if it is needed.

"The president thanked the governor for his leadership during this challenging time and expressed condolences on behalf of the First Lady and himself for those who lost their lives," spokesman Eric Schultz said Wednesday.

The United States has been hit by a wave of wild weather -- tornadoes, floods and rain -- that has claimed at least 52 lives in the past week and stranded millions trying to get home after the Christmas holiday.

Nixon declared a state of emergency on Sunday and called in the National Guard Tuesday to help local officials deal with the rare winter flooding -- the result of a monster storm system that also unleased tornadoes and freezing rain.

Neighboring Illinois has also been hard-hit. The storm claimed the lives of five people swept away while driving on a flooded roadway, and a state of emergency was declared in a dozen counties.

The wild winter weather has killed 11 people in Texas, 11 people in Mississippi and six in Tennessee.

Alabama and Arkansas each reported two storm-related deaths while Georgia had one death.

More misery came Wednesday as heavy rain led to renewed flash flood warnings in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and West Virginia.

Significant flooding is currently occurring in more than a dozen US states, the weather service said.

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Previous Report
Frantic US fight against record floods
Chicago (AFP) Dec 31, 2015
Soldiers and volunteers packed sand bags Wednesday in a frantic effort to stave off floodwaters in the US state of Missouri, where 13 people have been killed and several towns have been engulfed. The Mississippi River is already more than 14 feet (4.2 meters) above flood stage in some areas and is forecast to rise another eight feet before cresting on Friday, according to the National Weathe ... read more

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