President Barack Obama declared an emergency Saturday in the flood-ravaged state of Missouri, a move that allows federal aid to help the state recover from massive flooding that has killed at least two dozen people, forced thousands of others to evacuate and submerged huge swaths of farmland.
Saturday's declaration also permits the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts. The help comes as state officials in Missouri and nearby Illinois toured the hardest-hit areas to survey the wreckage of homes and entire towns in the American heartland.
"It's almost as if you're living on some other planet," said Missouri Governor Jay Nixon as he stood on a mound of debris in the devastated town of Eureka, about an hour's drive west of St. Louis. And this, he said, "is just a tiny fraction of the trail of destruction."
The flooding was fueled by more than 25 centimeters of rain over three days in the past week, bursting banks on the Mississippi, Meramec and Missouri rivers.
By Saturday, two main interstate highways reopened south and west of St. Louis, and some residents were allowed to return to their homes.
But forecasters warned that regions farther south still faced flooding as swollen rivers continued to rise Saturday.
The National Weather Service issued flood advisories as far south as Tennessee through Monday evening, while local forecasters said many smaller rivers south of St. Louis would not crest until midweek.