Rising rivers threaten St. Louis area towns, roads

Apr 30, 2017
Originally published on May 1, 2017 5:26 pm

Updated May 1 with new road closure information - Rising rivers in the St. Louis area that are already threatening homes and businesses will also cause major traffic headaches for at least the rest of this week.

More than 70 roads have been closed in the area due to engorged rivers and streams. (See a complete list here.) Officials say more will be added to the list this week. That includes Interstate 44, which will close in both directions at Route 141 Monday night. Missouri Department of Transportation engineer  Tom Blair says it will mark the third spot on the interstate to close since the heavy rains hit the state this past weekend.

"Motorists planning to travel across the state of Missouri on Interstate 44, should use Interstate 70," Blair said Monday at a news conference. "Route 100, Manchester Road to some of us, will become the new I-44 on Tuesday."

Other major roadways that are expected to close due to high water are Route 109 south of Eureka High School, Route 30 east of Route 141 and Route 21 at the Meramec River.

The Meramec is forecast to crest at near-record levels this week, possibly flooding homes and businesses at several spots in eastern Missouri.

"Everybody that lives in southwest St. Louis County, Jefferson County, and Franklin County, it's going to start hitting us really now," Blair said. "Even if your house or your business is not flooded, you're going to feel the impact of this as some of our major roadways close in the St. Louis region over the next couple days."

In addition, MoDot engineers are keeping a close watch on Interstate 55 in south St. Louis County.

"Interstate 55 is so close to seeing water on top that we have teams putting together a plan of how we would close that road," said MoDot maintenance engineer Mark Croarkin. "Really Telegraph, Lindbergh and I-55 are really at that line where they could all go under, they could all stay safe or we could have a combination in between. We'll know more on Tuesday."

 

Our original story from Apr. 30 —The weekend’s heavy rains are expected to flood communities along the Meramec River in St. Louis and Jefferson counties, the same ones that weathered record-breaking floods about a year and a half ago.

But officials cautioned that it won’t be as bad as late December 2015, when more than 7,000 structures were damaged. Only one community, Valley Park, has requested mandatory evacuations, asking residents and businesses to leave by noon Tuesday.

National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said Sunday afternoon that flooding along the Meramec River likely will be a foot or two shy of the record levels set at Pacific, Eureka, Valley Park and Arnold.

“All of them are expecting major crests” by mid-week, Fuchs said, adding,“This is going to be a major flood and a headache for many, many people, but not quite the headache that that flood was.”

 

Missouri Department of Transportation Assistant District Engineer Tom Blair said Sunday that the most urgent thing for area residents to know was that traffic would be affected, especially state Route 141 at Interstate 44 near Valley Park, which will close at 10 p.m. Sunday and remain closed through Friday.

 

“My main message I want to get out right now, the most urgent message to get out to St. Louis motorists, if you’re traveling outside the St. Louis region on Interstate 44, it is closed outside St. Louis between Rolla and Lebanon," Blaire said.  

Valley Park's evacuation order, which was posted on Facebook, noted there was "no indication that the levee protecting the city has been compromised or breached."

 

In Jefferson County, Big River is expected to top the 1915 record at Byrnesville on Monday, while the Mississippi River at St. Louis is expected to crest about two feet below the last high-water mark. Fuchs said prediction for the Missouri River at St. Charles may rise as water from the west flows downstream.

According to the National Weather Service, St. Louis and Quincy set a daily rainfall record Saturday. Heavy rain and thunderstorms dumped 4 to 5 inches on the St. Louis area since Friday, but Fuchs said less than a half-inch was expected Sunday.

 

Flash flooding throughout Missouri prompted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens to declare a state of emergency Saturday, and on Sunday he activated the National Guard in case they're needed to help with flooding situations.

 

"This is serious. Stay safe," Greitens said at a Sunday news conference, noting that at least two people have died and there have been 136 rescues and 111 evacuations, though many of those are in southern Missouri. He later added: "In many parts of Missouri, this will be a flood of historical proportions."

In Eureka, volunteers spent the weekend sandbagging in hopes of warding off the flood. The fire department’s Public Information Officer, Scott Barthelmass, said city officials expect the river to flood several neighborhoods and businesses.  

“If people were flooded in 2015-2016, now’s the time to get out,” said Barthelmass. “It puts our personnel, and puts them, at risk when we actually have to get into the river to rescue people from their homes.”

 

The Red Cross has opened shelters for people displaced by flooding in Pacific and Perryville.

 

Blair said MoDOT has learned a lot since the flooding in 2015.

 

“I think our team is much more efficient. We’re staying pretty calm. We’ve been through this before.  What we need is everyone in St. Louis to stay calm. We’re going to get through this," said Blair. "We want everyone to stay safe out there, not only our workers, but all of our motorists and citizens out there to stay safe.”

Much of the St. Louis metropolitan area remains under a flash flood watch through late Sunday night.

 

Willis Ryder Arnold contributed to this report.

 

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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