(ABC)– Heavy flooding from the Mississippi River continues to rock the state of Missouri as residents are evacuated and businesses and homes are inundated in rare winter flooding.
Thirteen flood-related deaths have been reported, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday during a visit to Perry County, where a record crest is predicted for the Mississippi River in the area.
In West Alton, about 20 miles north of St. Louis, 520 people were evacuated after water from the Mississippi overtopped the levee there, the Associated Press reported.
Nixon urged motorists to stay away from roads that have even a low level of water due to the fast-moving current of the flood waters, adding that nearly all of the people who died were in vehicles that drove onto flooded roadways.
The governor activated the Missouri National Guard to protect local communities and support emergency response personnel. He said he expects hundreds of guardsmen to be deployed today in the St. Louis area and south. They will be swapped out for local police through tomorrow.
The red cross now has eight shelters across Missouri.
It’s an unusual time for the Mississippi River to flood, said ABC News Meteorologist Melissa Griffin. Spring and summer are usually prone to flooding due to the rainy season combined with snow melt.
The Mississippi River near Memphis, St. Louis and Chester, Missouri has had only one other winter crest in the past, Griffin said. This kind of flooding in winter typically isn’t possible because the air is too dry and cold to produce enough moisture of extended periods of heavy rain.
St. Louis and Springfield are seeing their wettest December on record, Griffin said.
In a commercial area in Union, Missouri, several businesses are submerged in water due to the overflowing of the Bourbeuse River, which is expected to reach a record-setting 35 feet, Officer Mike Joyce of the Union Police Department told ABC News today.
The flooded businesses include a McDonald’s, Dollar General, gas stations and convenience stores, Joyce said. Some residences are submerged as well.
Residents in the area were evacuated yesterday, he said. They were warned to gather their belongings into U-Haul trucks.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard has closed a portion of the Mississippi River to all vessel traffic near St. Louis because of high water levels and fast currents.
Highways and road closures include I-44 near the central Missouri town of Rolla and a section of I-70 in southern Illinois. Hundreds of smaller highways and roads were closed across the two states, where flood warnings are in effect.
A wastewater treatment center near St. Louis has stopped operating Monday night after it malfunctioned, causing sewage to go directly into nearby rivers and streams, the Metropolitan Sewer District of St. Louis said in a release. Utility officials said the plant is designed for 6.75 million gallons per day of flow, but was treating nearly 24 million gallons per day at the time of the malfunction.
On Sunday, Nixon had declared a state of emergency in Missouri due to the prolonged storm system. Although Nixon warned that there will be a significant uptick of flood water is in the coming, no rain is expected for the next seven days to exacerbate the water levels.