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Mississippi set to crest at St. Louis Friday as wave of high water rolls through area rivers

Updated at 4:50 p.m.  - More than a dozen people have died as a result of historic flooding throughout Missouri. And the state isn’t out of the wood just yet.

In a briefing with local officials in Franklin County, Gov. Jay Nixon said that 14 people have died as a result of flooding. Most of the deaths occurred after people tried to drive through floodwater.

“If we could say anything over and over and over – it’s don’t drive into water,” Nixon said.

He said the flooding that Missouri is experience is historic – and profoundly dangerous: “But the bottom line is you’ve got more water – higher water – than you had in 1993 in many locations – which means this is very dangerous. You’ve already had a number of deaths. And we’re out there not only trying to manage a situation, but to save lives.”

Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama called the governor to offer condolences for the loss of life and to let the state know that his staff is monitoring the situation and has been directed to work with the governor’s team on bringing in the federal assistance that might be needed.

Pacific resident Carolyn Davis drove up to a steep bluff to look at how the floods damaged her town. She says she’s never seen anything like this: “You know you’re looking at landmarks that have never been under – the opera house or the florist shop that’s been there forever. You know restaurants – families and people. It’s just crazy.”

While waters appear to have crested in Franklin County, Nixon says waters could rise further elsewhere.

River traffic

The Mississippi River is expected to crest in St. Louis later this week and then quickly recede.

The swollen Mississippi River has barge traffic at a standstill north of St. Louis. Lt. Sean Haley, a spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard, says the river is moving fast and picking up debris, making it dangerous to navigate.

This debris is in the River Des Peres.
Credit Chloe Hollett / Instagram
This debris is in the River Des Peres.

“Most, if not all of the marine industry, at least that we’ve spoken with, have their barge fleets tied up —usually on double lines — to guard against extreme weather, to guard against this surge and are essentially waiting it out.”

Haley says the river is cresting like a giant wave moving south, which could cause other closures in the coming days.

Russell Errett, a hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says they’re keeping a close eye on the river gauge in Chester, Ill., where several tributaries merge into the Mississippi. The bridge across the river there, connecting Illinois and Missouri, has been closed, and officials are closely watching the situation at the nearby Menard Correctional Center, a maximum security prison.

“Once we get that initial wave that’s coming through there, it’s going to dictate what the crests will be at Cape Girardeau, Thebes and even Cairo.”

Errett says the Corps is already preparing for flooding in the New Orleans area.

The Meramec River, which has caused significant damage, is starting to recede in Union. But the crest is still rolling toward the Mississippi. The high point expected to be reached in Valley Park Thursday, for instance, is 44.1 feet, which is 4.4 feet about the record set there in 1982.

Traffic woes

The floods are impacting traffic all over the state. By mid-day Wednesday, Interstate 44 was closed for a 24-mile stretch from Interstate 270 all the way to Route 100 in Gray Summit in Franklin County. The Missouri Department of Transportation reports that more than 225 roads are closed due to flooding.

There are currently 40 closures on Missouri state highways in the St. Louis region.

And the Missouri Department of Transportation is mobilizing to keep floodwaters from closing Interstate 55.

MoDOT Assistant District Engineer Tom Blair says they’re especially concerned about a stretch near Arnold: “By dark you’ll see a full team out there putting in those sandbags, and they should be in place before the water gets up on the road.”

If the forecast holds, Blair says traffic could get back to normal early next week.

Missouri drivers should check www.modot.org. Illinois road closures can be found at the Illinois Department of Transportation website.

Fenton wastewater plant

The station is underwater; electricity has been cut off. They cleared out as much equipment as possible, but will have to wait for water to go down to assess damage. On average, station processes 6.75 million gallons a day, at the time it went out it was taking in 24 million gallons.

Want to help?

The United Way of Greater St. Louis’ Volunteer Center and AmeriCorps-St. Louis are working to connect volunteers with sandbagging and other flood protection efforts.  STLVolunteer.org will have a list of needs. According to a news release, those who want to work must be 18 or accompanied by a parent or guardian, and no one younger than 13 can help. Closed-toe shoes and gloves are required.

Durrie Bouscaren provided information for this article.

Copyright 2015 St. Louis Public Radio

Tim Lloyd grew up north of Kansas City and holds a masters degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, Columbia. Prior to joining St. Louis Public Radio, he launched digital reporting efforts for Harvest Public Media, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting funded collaboration between Midwestern NPR member stations that focuses on agriculture and food issues. His stories have aired on a variety of stations and shows including Morning Edition, Marketplace, KCUR, KPR, IPR, NET, WFIU. He won regional Edward R Murrow Awards in 2013 for Writing, Hard News and was part of the reporting team that won for Continuing Coverage. In 2010 he received the national Debakey Journalism Award and in 2009 he won a Missouri Press Association award for Best News Feature.
Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.
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