Flooding forcing evacuations, traffic troubles

Published 9:55 am Thursday, December 31, 2015

ST. LOUIS — Surging Midwestern rivers forced hundreds of evacuations, threatened dozens of levees and brought transportation by car, boat or train to a virtual standstill Thursday in the St. Louis area.

Swollen rivers and streams, already high from a wet late fall, were pushed to heights not seen in nearly a quarter- century after more than 10 inches of rain fell this week in a wide swath from central Illinois through southwest Missouri.

While St. Louis itself was not flooded, hundreds of homes in its southwestern suburbs were damaged and residents in hundreds of others had to leave as water approached the tops of levees. Other spots being threatened were just farmland or now-deserted land.

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The good news Thursday: The Missouri, Meramec and Mississippi rivers were cresting throughout the region. The Mississippi River appeared it would be about 7 1/2 feet below the 1993 record in St. Louis, where a floodwall offered solid protection, but as the waters flow south, points in southern Missouri and Illinois were awaiting the crest.

The Meramec River to the southwest of St. Louis reached record levels — 4 feet above the previous record in the suburb of Valley Park — but was starting to recede Thursday. However, there was still cause for grave concern, as hundreds of homes were damaged in Eureka, an estimated 100 homes in Arnold were damaged, as well as dozens more in nearby Pacific.

The river also caused major transportation issues. A 24-mile stretch of Interstate 44 was closed southwest of St. Louis on Wednesday, and the Missouri Department of Transportation was forced to close a 3-mile stretch of Interstate 55 in both directions on early Thursday due to flooding.

“There’s still water out there — there’s water everywhere,” MoDOT spokeswoman Marie Elliott said. “We were out there all night sandbagging trying to hold it back as much as we could, but it was just so much.”