The worst of the dangerous, deadly winter flood is over in the St. Louis area, leaving residents of several water-logged communities to spend the first day of 2016 assessing damage, cleaning up and figuring out how to bounce back – or in some cases, where to live.
Further south, things were getting worse: Record and near-record crest predictions of the Mississippi River and levee breaks threatening homes in rural southern Missouri and Illinois. Two more levees succumbed Friday, bringing to at least 11 the number of levee failures.
The flood, fueled by more than 10 inches of rain over a three-day period that began last weekend, is blamed for 22 deaths. Searchers were still looking for five missing people – two teenagers in Illinois, two men in Missouri and a country music singer in Oklahoma.
On Friday, water from the Mississippi, Meremec and Missouri rivers was largely receding in the St. Louis area.
Two major highways – Interstate 44 and Interstate 55 – reopened south of St. Louis, meaning that commuters who return to work next week won’t have hours-long detours. Some evacuees were allowed to return home.
But in the far southwestern tip of Illinois, the 500 or so people living behind the Len Small levee, which protects the hamlets of Olive Branch, Hodges Park, Unity and rural homes, were urged to move to higher ground after the Mississippi began pouring over the levee.
Alexander County Board Chairman Chalen Tatum said sandbagging efforts were cut off because it was simply too dangerous for the volunteers. Far more water is to come before the Sunday crest.
‘It’s going to get ugly,’ he said.
In St. Mary, a town of about 360 residents 50 miles south of St. Louis, neighbors and volunteers placed sandbags around homes after a small agricultural levee broke. The Mississippi River was expected to crest there Saturday at about 3½ feet below the 1993 record.
The main culprit in the St. Louis region was the relatively small Mississippi tributary, the Meramec River. It had bombarded communities in the far southwestern reaches of the St. Louis suburbs during the week. By Friday, it was relenting, but not before some points topped the 1993 record by 4 feet.
Two waste water treatment plants were so damaged by the floodwaters that raw sewage spewed into the river. A water plant closed at High Ridge.
Hundreds of people were evacuated in Pacific, Eureka, Valley Park and Arnold, and many of their homes took in water.
Among the victims were Damon Thorne, 44, and his 60-year-old mother, Linda, who live together in an Arnold mobile home park that had washed away after a small private levee proved no match for the surging Meramec. For now, the Thornes are staying in a Red Cross shelter at a Baptist church.
‘We’re just basically homeless,’ Damon Thorne said, ‘We have nowhere to go.
Read more: Daily Mail