Hundreds of people in the US Midwest fled their homes Tuesday ahead of rising flood waters amid violent storms affecting much of the eastern half of the country that killed at least 48 people over the Christmas holiday period.

Record rainfall of up to 30 centimetres since Saturday has swollen the Mississippi, Missouri and Meremac rivers to near-historic levels, creating a chain reaction that flooded wastewater treatment plants and storm channels.

The National Weather Service said "major" flooding is expected to continue for much of the week in the US states of Missouri and Illinois.

River levels in some areas were up 10 metres since Saturday, CNN reported. The Mississippi River was predicted to crest in the city of St Louis at 3 meters above flood stage Thursday, the highest level since devastating 1993 floods that were the worst on record.

By Tuesday, the Mississippi had already overtopped a levee in West Alton, 32 kilometres to the north of St Louis, forcing the town's more than 500 residents to flee.

Flooding closed several interstate highways and hundreds of smaller roads in Missouri and neighbouring Illinois.

Aerial video broadcast by US news networks showed suburban landscapes in Missouri transformed into vast, muddy lakes that washed out roads and submerged homes and businesses.

The flooding is a result of a large weather system packing snow, ice and heavy rain that has hammered the mid-section of the United States since Christmas Day.

In addition to the rain and flooding, tornadoes caused by abnormally warm weather devastated several residential areas near Dallas, Texas, on Saturday.

A severe storm on Christmas Eve in the southern states of Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas left at least 17 people dead. They are among 48 weather-related deaths over the Christmas holiday weekend, news reports said.

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