Artorius Castus

Flooding prompts some to pack up and leave

Posted in Uncategorized by Patrick Truax on March 20, 2008

By Tim O’Neil and Matthew Hathaway


Update to earlier stories..

Predictions of record flooding along the lower Meramec River inspired many residents to load pickups and head for higher ground today, but the Valley Park mayor was urging his residents to stay put behind their new $49 million levee.

This morning, the St. Louis County Emergency Operations Center called for a voluntary evacuation of low-lying areas along the river, including the communities of Valley Park, Fenton and Eureka. The National Weather Service was forecasting crests Thursday through Saturday that would nudge higher than the record flooding of December 1982 along some stretches of the volatile river.

The National Weather Service upped its forecasts because of steady rainfall through late yesterday and early this morning. For Valley Park, the forecast is
for a crest of 40 feet.

That would beat by a few inches the record of 39.7 feet set on Dec. 6, 1982, and a full 24 feet over flood stage. That flood inundated Valley Park and other
communities along the lower Meramec. Valley Park’s new three-mile-long levee was built to a level two feet higher than the crest forecast, but that may be too close for comfort for some people. It was completed in 2005.

Many Valley Park residents loaded furniture and other valuables onto trucks today and moved out. But Mayor Jeffery Whitteaker said he was confident that the levee will hold against the crest and did not join the call for voluntary evacuation.

“We’ve been told by the (Army) Corps of Engineers that we’re good to go, and the levee will withstand it,” said Whitteaker, who included those sentiments in a letter this afternoon to residents. “I feel comfortable with the current projections.”

Asked about residents who were leaving, he said, “Everybody’s got a different comfort level. We’re not forcing an evacuation or even recommending one.”

Leon McKinney a former Army Corps district chief in St. Louis, served as the city’s consultant and advised Whitteaker that the levee would hold. “If you tell people to evacuate and you don’t need to, there may be a time when you need people out and they won’t listen anymore,” said McKinney, of Chesterfield.

But over at Benton and Fourth streets, Susie Shields was packing up to go. Shields was there during the 1982 flood and said, “We’re not taking any chances. I’ll move in with my brother in the hills.” In far southern Missouri, where up to 10 inches of record-setting ran has fallen, five people have died in flood-related accidents, according to the
Associated Press.

County Police spokeswoman Tracy Panus said the county recommendation was not mandatory, and said the leaders of each community can response as they wish. But Panus said, “This is very serious. We are anticipating some very serious flooding.”

Although officials at first said they didn’t need volunteers, the city of Fenton asked for sandbaggers and the Circle of Concern, a food pantry in Valley Park, asked for people to help move food and office equipment.

Fenton asked volunteer sandbaggers to meet at the Big Lots parking long, 539 Gravois Road, between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. tomorrow. Volunteers should bring gloves.

The Circle of Concern, at 112 St. Louis Avenue, seeks volunteers any time after 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Some evacuations also were underway along the Big River, which already is out of its banks in Jefferson County. The Big has its headwaters west of Elephant
Rocks State Park and meets the Meramec near Eureka.

Several dozen residents along the Big near Morse Mill were evacuated today. The Weather Service reports the Big already six feet over flood stage and forecasts a crest of 27.5 feet, or 14.5 feet over flood, tomorrow. That would be three feet short of a record that dates to 1915.
The 1982 flood also covered parts of Eureka and Pacific upstream and was the end of Times Beach. If the river crests at Eureka as advertised, said city Fire Chief Don Tomnitz, the southern and old downtown parts of the city will be flooded.

In Pacific, officers already have begun asking people to evacuate south of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line. City emergency chief Dian Becker said the crest forecast would push floodwater north to the tracks and affect at least 40 homes.

Homeowners on the south side of town, closest to the river, were busy packing up their belongings in rented trailers and moving trucks this afternoon. A florist, Kenneth Coleman, frantically worked to clear his shop his First Street shop called Coleman Florist — a 4,000-square-foot building — and his home around the corner.

“This is my third flood,” Coleman said. “I’m a little bit seasoned. It’s better to take things out dry, rather than wet and destroyed.”

In Valley Park, Phyllis Jacoby, who lives on Pyramid Street near the new levee, was boxing valuables insider her home for transport to a son’s home in Festus. Jacoby, 65 and a lifelong Valley Park resident, has moved four times before for floods and said she didn’t trust the new levee.

“I pray to God that it holds and everyone doesn’t lose all they own, but I don’t think it’s going to hold,” Jacoby said. “I don’t trust it. It’s all dirt.”

So she and daughter Terri Johnson packed her family photos and collection of angel figurines.

“I know the Meramec River. Most people don’t understand it,” Jacoby said. “I know what that river can do.”

Not far from her home, volunteers finished filling 500 sandbags for future use. The worksite was near the levee gate at St. Louis Avenue, which has been closed. Among the volunteers were the uniformed members of the Valley Park High School baseball team, which had nowhere to practice after three inches of rain.

Also there was Grant Young, owner of Young’s Restaurant and Ice Creamery in town and a candidate for mayor in next month’s election.

“Maybe I’m just being an optimist, but I think the levee is going to hold,” said Young, 48. “But this is the first time it’s been tested, and it’s going to be quite a test.”

South on the Big River near Morse Mill, Linda Koenig was among the residents of Riverview Drive who were evacuated this morning by boat. With the river out of its banks, the “river view” from her home is a 360-degree affair.

Koenig said she had lived there 17 years and had to evacuate once before. When the river recedes, she said, she’ll go back.

“I love it down there,” she said. “Wherever you live, something can go wrong.”

At Varietees Exotic Bird Store, at Marshall Road and Highway 141, owners Mike and Tracy Schwarztrauber studied the river forecasts on the Internet and took calls from worried customers. Mike Schwarztrauber said they planned to move the birds to the homes of many friends and regulars. The store has several hundred exotic birds, including parakeets and parrots.

“We’re hoping we don’t have to evacuate, but we can’t take a chance with the birds,” he said.

Mark Fuchs, hydrologist for the regional Weather Service office in Weldon Spring, said the continued rains overnight led to the higher forecasts, which are five or so feet higher than estimated yesterday. Fuchs said the Weather Service uses a combination of reports from rain gauges and radar data to estimate the crests.

“This could be the biggest flood we’ve had in the Meramec basin,” Fuchs said. “It’s obviously a huge flood.”

The Meramec, with headwaters near Salem, Mo., drains a wide and hilly region southwest of St. Louis. Fuchs said much of the Meramec basin received between four and 7.5 inches of rain over the past two days. At Lambert St. Louis-International Airport, home of the official gauge for St. Louis, 3.6 inches fell before the rain stopped this morning.

Fuchs said rainfall in the Ozarks and southeast Missouri generally was heavier. Cape Girardeau had a foot of rain in two days. Fortunately for the Meramec Valley, much of the Ozarks watershed drains to the south.

Here are more two-day rain totals (in inches) from the Weather Service:

In Illinois, Belleville, 5.4; Cahokia, 4; Carbondale, 8; Mt. Vernon, 7.4; Salem, 4.3. In Missouri, Arcadia, 5.9; Clearwater, 10.9; Doniphan, 7.7; Ellington, 9; Farmington, 5.4; Festus, 5.8; Mehlville, 4.9; Potosi, 7.2; Rosebud, 4.1; Salem, 5.5; Sullivan, 5.1; University City, 4.1; Union, 4.7; Valley Park, 4.3; Wappapello, 9.9; Washington, 4.3; west St. Louis County, 4.1.

Reporter Robert Kelly and Heather Ratcliffe of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report

Update to earlier stories. Valley Park is about 15 miles south of here. we are perched on a bluff overlooking the Missouri. We are high, but that isnt the problem-the ground is just saturated. I would guess 20 inches of water in the last few weeks have drained into the field behind my house. But so far the sump is holding….

Great River Road, Alton, Illinois 2003

This pic was taken in Alton in 2003, on the River Road.


One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Patrick Truax said, on March 20, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Thats one good thing-the Corps of Engineers amnage all of the levees and dams, so they have a big presence here..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: