ST. LOUIS (AP) — A 23-year-old single mother made a distress call on her cellphone moments after her car was swept into floods in her hometown in south-central Missouri, killing her young son and likely killing her, authorities said Thursday.
Jessica D. Lee and her son, Elyjah M. Lee, 4, both of Waynesville, were in a car that was swept off a roadway early Tuesday after torrential rains hit the area, flooding streets and damaging homes and businesses, Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long said.
“She made a phone call advising she was in a distressed situation,” Long said. He said the call came in at 4:52 a.m. Tuesday, but would not say who Lee called or elaborate on the conversation.
The vehicle and the child’s body were recovered about three hours later in western Waynesville. Jessica Lee’s body had still not been recovered at about mid-day Thursday, but the search continued he said.
Long said authorities are assuming she’s dead.
“I don’t see how anyone could have survived her situation,” he said. “This is a very responsible individual. As rapid as that water was it was like a raging river. It was a Class V whitewater river. It was so destructive even the vehicle was extremely damaged, and we did find personal property out there. … It was very dark and I’m estimating she didn’t even see it coming. She just hit it and away she went.”
A southwest Missouri woman also died after another round of torrential downpours caused flash flooding that swept away her car, authorities said Thursday.
McDonald County emergency management director Greg Sweeten said the woman died early Thursday when water from normally dry Brush Creek suddenly overwhelmed Route 90 near the town of Jane, Mo., flooding the road up to 6 feet deep. The victim’s name has not been released.
National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Albert said parts of southwest Missouri got 10 inches of rain overnight. McDonald County in the far southwest corner of the state was inundated with rain that seemingly came all at once.
“Early this morning it just unleashed,” Sweeten said.
Fifteen people camping on an island on the Elk River near Noel had to be rescued. In fact, the county boat rescuing them broke down, and the rescuers themselves had to be saved by a boat from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Sweeten said. Two women were rescued from their homes in Powell, Mo.
South of Branson, the Taney County town of Hollister was also hard hit. About 100 buildings were damaged and more than two dozen people needed rescue, most from mobile homes, when Turkey Creek suddenly surged over its banks early Thursday.
Hollister city administrator Rick Ziegenfuss said officials had been monitoring Turkey Creek and its tributaries throughout Wednesday night into Thursday morning. The creek remained in its banks until 3:20 a.m., when it rose 15 feet in 25 minutes, he said.
“We’ve had flooding before but not like this,” Ziegenfuss said. “I’ve been city administrator about 10 years, and this is the most extreme we’ve ever had. It’s the highest level water we’ve ever had.”
Four or five mobile homes in one park moved off their moorings, one traveling several hundred yards and another washing into the creek, where it still hadn’t been found Thursday evening, Ziegenfuss said.
Ziegenfuss said about 25 people were in a Red Cross shelter Thursday night, although most of the displaced in southwest Missouri were staying with friends or relatives.
More rain fell overnight in the Waynesville area, near Fort Leonard Wood. Albert said parts of south-central Missouri received 15 inches of rain in a 48-hour period.
Interstate 44 near Jerome in south-central Missouri reopened Thursday after floodwaters receded, but many other roadways were closed in southern Missouri.
Rain in Missouri has been extraordinarily heavy, but spotty, since the series of storms began Monday. Northern and eastern parts of the state have seen little rain while areas across the width of the state south of Interstate 70 have been, in many cases, inundated.
AP reporter Maria Sudekum in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.
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