More than 17,000 people in the South and Midwest made unplanned Easter visits to the homes of relatives and friends and emergency shelters yesterday, fleeing floodwaters that swept over the banks of rivers bloated by torrential rains.

Rains that pounded for nearly a week ended in most places Saturday, but not before floodwaters ruptured dikes and levees and rampaged over parts of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and Illinois.

At least four persons drowned in Alabama Friday. Floodwaters also were blamed for four deaths in Mississippi, two each in Arkansas and Georgia and one in Missouri.

In the Jackson, Miss., area alone, more than 15,000 refugees fled from the swirling waters of the Pearl River.

The Pearl climbed to 41.6 feet at Jackson yesterday morning-well above the old high water mark of 37.5 feet in 1902. The National Weather Service said the upper Pearl River had crested, but record floods were forecast for the lower Pearl as the flood crest moved downstream.

More than 1,000 residents of eastern Missouri towns were forced to leave their homes because of flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. At Arnold, 20 miles south of St. Louis, a softball park was under more than 30 feet of water.

Residents of storm-torn Georgia, wher 27 tornadoes and funnel clouds were reported in a 24-hour period Thursday night, began cleanup operations in tranquil spring conditions.

Weather officials said more than 5 1/2 inches of rain fell in the Atlanta metropolitan area during the 24-hour period, shattering a record set in April 1936 when 4.46 inches of rain was recorded.