Rivers cresting around St. Louis as towns deal with floods

Posted at 1:31 PM, Jan 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-01 13:31:40-05

Deidre Engelman thought about making a sandbag wall to keep the rising Meramec River from her St. Louis-area home, but she was out of time.

So she grabbed what possessions she could and left her home in Arnold, one of many Midwestern communities struggling with floodwater after the region was deluged in storms last week

The swollen Mississippi River was cresting in St. Louis on Friday, as flood warnings still covered areas where 9.3 million people live in 17 states.

“The water was going to be higher than we could possibly build in time, so we all decided we were going to get a U-Haul truck, pack it up and leave,” Engelman told CNN affiliate KMOV on Thursday.

The Meramec, which meets the Mississippi near Arnold, crested at 47.2 feet Thursday, about 9 feet above what is considered a major flood stage in the community of about 20,000. Sandbags saved some homes there, but about 10 were flooded, with one home getting about 7 feet of water, KMOV reported.

A week ago, bad weather spread across the country, starting with a spate of tornadoes. By the weekend, the Midwest was flooded. The clouds have long cleared out, and no more rain is expected in the Mississippi River basin until late next week. But runoff has swelled rivers, and in areas south of St. Louis, they have yet to crest.

Water has submerged neighborhoods, schools and shopping centers; carried off whole houses; and killed 14 people in the state. In neighboring Illinois, seven people have died in flooding, according to KMOV. Many of those who died drove into high, rushing water and were carried away in their cars.

On Thursday, the flooding breached a St. Louis-area wastewater treatment plant near the Meramec River — the second such breach there in a week — sending untreated waste into the river. Missouri American Water spokeswoman Ann Dettmer said the water in homes and businesses in the area still is safe to use.

“We are seeing higher levels of bacteria in the river water … but we’re managing it,” she told CNN.

Other plants are treating the river water, she said. “We are meeting state and federal standards. They don’t have to worry about their drinking water.”

Roads cut off

Flooding has buried whole networks of streets around St. Louis, including 24 miles of Interstate 44, a portion that still was closed Friday.

In the town of Valley Park, a lake of floodwater glistened under a sunny sky Friday morning, covering a road that goes under I-44.

A portion of Interstate 55 near St. Louis also had been closed, but most lanes were reopened by Friday morning.

River crest records

At its peak, the Mississippi should be at its highest level ever, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has said, beating the highest level of the great flood of 1993, the benchmark for flood catastrophes in the region.

As the runoff from the deluges that hit around Christmas continues gathering in rivers that empty into the Mississippi River, downstream, gauges are predicting flooding in areas farther south as deep torrents roll that way — in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, in early January.

Communities along the Mississippi River in southern Illinois and southern Missouri are expected to see the river rise to record levels into early next week.

Hundreds of miles to the south, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the river is expected to crest above flood stage on January 19.