Missouri, Illinois residents fight flooding
By Tim O’Neil
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
UPDATED, 10 a.m.
Missouri has been drenched with an inch to 10 inches of rain, swelling rivers and streams, driving residents from their homes and killing several people.
The latest fatality involved a 67-year-old Springfield, Mo., man who died Tuesday night after he drove his 2006 Ford Focus into flood water on a farm road a mile east of his home. Troopers said the man likely died of a heart attack, but the car floated down stream 600 feet before it lodged onto debris floating in the water. The man, Ronald B. Rudd was pronounced dead at 7 p.m. His wife, Dorothy E. Rudd, 69, was rescued from the car and was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield with minor injuries.
The Springfield area and parts of southern Missouri suffered the brunt of the rainfall that has been pounding the state for the last day and a half. Forecasters call for an end to the rain this afternoon and, possibly, some sunshine.
But not before three others were killed as a result of the flooding.
The National Weather Service reported that the record for a two-day rainfall was broken in Cape Girardeau, which got 10 inches. The record had been 9.71 inches of rain that fell May 26 and 27, 1973.
Our Earlier Story:
Drumming rains swelled creeks and rivers across southern Missouri and Illinois Tuesday and primed the rising Meramec River for its first big test of Valley Park’s new $49 million levee.
The St. Louis area generally recorded 2 or more inches — less to the north, more to the south and washing over some low-lying roads. Much of Southern Illinois had 3 or more inches.
The biggest downpours were in Missouri’s Ozarks, where 5-inch rainfalls were common and 10 inches was recorded in Eminence, Mo., on the Jacks Fork River in Shannon County.
A man drowned in a swollen creek in Ellington, east of Shannon County, and a driver was killed when a pickup was swept into a creek in Marble Hill, west of Cape Girardeau.
Near Springfield, Mo., highway worker Joshua Slatten, 21, was killed Tuesday morning when his dump truck was struck by a tractor-trailer on U.S. 65 during work to set up barriers in a flooded area.
Steady rain was expected to continue until this morning.
The National Weather Service forecast flooding on the Meramec, Big and Bourbeuse rivers. At Valley Park, the Meramec was expected to crest Friday at 35 feet, less than 5 feet shy of the record of December 1982. Flood stage there is 16 feet.
That kind of forecast once set Valley Park residents into frenzied packing to evacuate. But in 2005, construction was completed on the city’s new 3.2-mile-long levee, which was designed to protect Valley Park to another 7 feet more than the predicted crest.
“Everybody seems to be staying put,” Valley Park Mayor Jeffery Whitteaker said Tuesday. “According to the design, the levee should protect the city. We’re confident, although this is the first test.”
Fire Chief Charles Wilken, calling himself “proactive and cautious,” said he will move equipment from the city’s St. Louis Avenue firehouse today, just in case. In pre-levee days, that station’s driveway served as an unofficial river gauge for residents, and major floods routinely swamped the firehouse.
Whitteaker said city workers planned to close the floodgates today at St. Louis Avenue, on the east end of the levee, and shore it with sandbags. But he plans no call for evacuation or other drastic precautions.
About 2,000 of Valley Park’s 6,500 residents live in the old-town section on the river bottom, now protected by the levee.
If Valley Park appears snug, the Meramec could back onto Highway 141 at Interstate 44, as it has in the past. State highway officials were watching the area.
Officials upstream in Eureka and Pacific said they were watching the Meramec but didn’t expect major flooding. At Byrnesville, the Big River was expected to crest at 25 feet Thursday, 9 feet over flood stage and 5 feet below the record set in 1915. The Big flows into the Meramec near Eureka.
Roughly six homes in Jefferson County were evacuated Tuesday evening on a small private lake about a mile southeast of Cedar Hill because officials were concerned that a dam had been weakened, said Cedar Hill Fire Chief Terry Soer.
Firefighters from around the St. Louis area who are trained in evacuations and rescues were headed to the Piedmont, Mo., area, where a creek was overflowing Tuesday, to help with efforts there, said State Fire Marshal Randy Cole.
The worst-hit places on Tuesday were in southeast and south-central Missouri including the Ozarks. Rainfalls of 10 inches or more pushed many creeks and rivers far beyond their banks, swamping roads and dislodging propane tanks. People were evacuated by motorboat and fire truck.
In Ellington, hardware-store owner Walter Baker, 81, fell into Dickens Creek Tuesday morning when he tried to push debris from a small pedestrian bridge that runs from the back of his store to his home. Search teams found his body more than a mile downstream.
In Marble Hill, a pickup was swept into Crooked Creek, which flooded the city park, several businesses and the local school. Leo McElrath, chief deputy of the Bollinger County sheriff’s office, said late Tuesday that the truck had been found underwater and the driver was killed after being trapped inside. The name of the driver had not yet been released.
In Winona, south of Eminence, authorities closed Highway 19 because flooding jammed loose propane tanks against the bridge piers. Special teams safely recovered them.
“We did have a lot of trouble,” said Winona emergency chief Dorothy Brooks.
In Salem, Ill., officials watched flooding Town Creek, which pushed water beneath homes in the Star Light Mobile Home Park, but no evacuation was ordered.
Mark Fuchs, hydrologist for the National Weather Service office in Weldon Spring, said late Tuesday that the 2.8 inches of rain recorded at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport Monday and Tuesday brought rainfall since Jan. 1 to just over 11 inches, or 4.6 inches more than normal. That contrasts soggily with the prolonged dry periods of 2006 and 2007, when the St. Louis area received only two-thirds of its normal rain.
“The drought is decidedly eliminated,” Fuchs said. “We could slide back into it again this summer, but the water supply around here now is in pretty good shape.”
The Weather Service forecasts moderate flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers this spring because of saturated soils in the Midwest and heavy snow packs to the north. But the recent storms were projected to push those rivers only to near flood stage Saturday.
The Cuivre River crested Tuesday at Troy, Mo., 1 foot above flood stage. Northern Missouri had heavy rains Monday.
Joel Currier, Robert Kelly and Leah Thorsen of the Post-Dispatch provided information for this article.
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