Child drowns in flash floods in central Missouri

A boat in a flooded yard is tied to a mailbox in front of a home on Aug. 6, 2013, in Waynesville, Mo.
Valeri Mosley,AP Photo/The Springfield News Leader

WAYNESVILLE, Mo. A young child drowned, several people were rescued and dozens of others were forced out of their homes after flash flooding in south-central Missouri early Tuesday.

The body of a child — believed to be between the ages of 4 and 6 — was found early Tuesday near Mitchell Creek on the west side of Waynesville, Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long said.

The child apparently had been in a vehicle that got caught in the flooding, Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Dan Crain said. Authorities did not immediately release the gender or name of the child.

Crain also said several people were still unaccounted for Tuesday morning. Local officials estimated that 50 or more homes were flooded in Waynesville as the Mitchell and Roubidoux creeks rose after several inches of rain fell after midnight.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol sent extra troopers and equipment to help emergency responders.

Disabled Army veteran Katie Knight was awakened around 2 a.m. when her kitchen sink, bathtub and toilet starting gurgling as water backed up from a rapidly rising creek. She peeked out of her house to see water already at the deck of her house in Waynesville.

"I panicked," said Knight, 31. "It's an eerie feeling when you see waters rising, because you are at the mercies of God's hands."

After calling as many friends as she could and her landlord, she waded through thigh-high water to a neighbor's porch to wait out the flood. She watched as rescue workers retrieved a man who for hours had screamed for help as he sat atop his SUV while clutching a tree branch.

The National Weather Service said more than 7 inches of rain fell at Fort Leonard Wood, which is near Waynesville, from midnight to mid-Tuesday morning.

Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman said high water tore loose several propane tanks and affected a public school.

"It is raining, and we are expecting more rain this afternoon so we're kind of scared of what's coming," Hardman told The Associated Press.

Crain said the Highway Patrol was among several agencies that responded with rescue boats. He said U.S. Army personnel from Fort Leonard Wood were on standby.

National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said gauges at the Army base received 7 inches of rain overnight, but unofficial gauges nearby had nearly 9 inches of rain.

In fact, Fuchs said, the Fort Leonard Wood area has seen nearly a foot of rain since August began. This month's weather patterns are unusual, as there's usually little rain in August and "it's also normally a hot time of year," Fuchs said.

"We're not seeing that either, and the two are connected. The jet stream is kind of over us right now, and embedded in that northwestern flow are disturbances that keep things unstable," he said.

The downpours are causing several rivers and creeks to rise. The Gasconade River at Hazelgreen was at 3 feet on Saturday; it was nearly 28 feet Tuesday, but still short of the record of 34.9 feet in 2008.

Roubidoux Creek, which cuts through Waynesville, had a similar rapid rise. Before the rain, there was only about a foot of water. On Tuesday, it stood at a record 21 feet.

More rain was forecast for much of the state over the next several days.