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News Wrap: Deadly flooding overwhelms in Missouri, Illinois

In our news wrap Wednesday, the rising Mississippi River and its tributaries have overwhelmed towns across parts of Missouri and Illinois. At least 20 people have been killed in the region and flood waters are expected to hit record levels. Also, snowfall has deepened the Sierra Nevada snowpack to higher than normal levels in California, offering some relief from extreme drought.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The water keeps rising along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and, with it, the toll in death and damage.

    Several small towns have been overwhelmed across parts of Missouri and Illinois, and at least 20 people have been killed in the region. With the disaster still building, one local official said today, "Nobody that is living has ever seen anything like this."

    It's already bad in places like Valley Park, Missouri, outside Saint Louis. Dozens of homes and businesses are underwater, and the Meramec River isn't due to crest until tomorrow at a record 43 feet. The floodwaters have also closed a stretch of Interstate 44, and hundreds of other roads and highways in the region are now submerged.

    Today, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon visited the nearby town of Pacific, where the flood tide is also expected to set a record.

  • GOV. JAY NIXON, Missouri:

    Wind fights upstream means water moves downstream, and so we are putting a pretty significant concentration down in those areas. We fully expect to see a continual rise in those areas over the next six to eight hours and then all the way into tonight.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Farther south, in High Ridge, this water treatment plant has been inundated, and is spewing raw sewage into nearby streams and rivers. It could get even worse if levees give way. The Army Corps of Engineers is watching 19 of the earthen barriers along the swollen Mississippi River and its tributaries.

    Meanwhile, sandbagging operations are in full force in Saint Louis, as volunteers race against time. Forecasters predict the Mississippi River will crest there tomorrow evening at nearly record levels.

  • MAN:

    We want to be very cautious and sandbag the low areas in case it would come over. Other areas, as you come up for repair, are in better shape with the pumping stations and everything else.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The rising Mississippi has already spilled over its banks near the city's iconic Gateway Arch.

    TOM KERR, Uniontown, Missouri resident: All our friends and family are losing everything.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Across the region in places, like Uniontown, south of Saint Louis, people insist they will piece their lives back together once the water recedes.

  • TOM KERR:

    It's a very close, if you say, family around here. So, once it gets down, everybody will come out, friends, family, everything. We will help everybody get it cleaned up and see if we can rebuild and get their lives going back again.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Flooding is also a threat on the other side of the Mississippi in Illinois. Crews in Alton worked through the night to shore up sandbag walls, hoping to hold back the deluge. This flooding now rivals the great flood disaster of 1993 along the Mississippi.

    In the day's other news, after four years of extreme drought, California may be getting at least a little relief. State officials reported today that snowfall has deepened the Sierra Nevada snowpack to 136 percent of normal levels. That's three times what it was this time a year ago. Come spring, the melting snow could provide nearly a third of the state's water supply.

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a major overhaul of police training today, amid a storm of criticism over a fatal shooting. He said the city will put Tasers in every squad car and focus on getting officers to take a less confrontational approach.

    Still, he acknowledged at an afternoon briefing, it is going to take much more to improve relations between police and the public.

  • MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL, Chicago:

    We have a long history in this city. That trust has been frayed to the point that it's broken. And part of what we're doing here, and I believe we will be better off at the end of the process, is build a police department that has the trust of the community, that is essential for the safety that those residents rely on.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The mayor returned early from a vacation in Cuba, after police killed two black residents over the weekend, one of them accidentally. That added to the protests over a white officer who's now charged with murder for killing a black teenager last year.

    There's word of another terror plot foiled, this time in Turkey. Police in Ankara say they have arrested two Islamic State suspects accused of planning to attack New Year's celebrations. They were taken during a raid today, and police also recovered explosive devices and suicide vests. The suspects allegedly planned to target crowded bars and shops on New Year's Eve.

    Just yesterday, police in Brussels, Belgium, said they broke up a similar plot. Today, the city canceled its New Year's Eve fireworks and other festivities.

    On the tech front, consumer demands for streaming video have fueled a surge in Internet connection speeds in the United States. The federal government — the Federal Communications Commission reports they nearly tripled between 2011 and 2014. But the U.S. still lags behind a number of other countries. Among the states, New Jersey has the fastest average download time. Idaho is slowest.

    And Wall Street slowed down today. The broader market followed energy stocks lower after oil prices tumbled again. In the end, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 117 points to close back near 17600. The Nasdaq fell 42 points, and the S&P 500 was down 15.

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