ST. LOUIS (CN) – Massive flooding has contributed to 13 deaths and snarled traffic as Missouri manages its worst flooding in 20 years.
The problems are particularly severe south and west of St. Louis, with the Mississippi, Missouri and Meramec rivers all overflowing their banks after torrential rains soaked the region with almost 10 inches of rain between Saturday and Monday. The rain is from the same system that caused deadly tornadoes in north Texas on Saturday.
A 24-mile stretch of Interstate 44 was shut down due to flood waters early Wednesday and isn’t expected to open until Friday. The closed portion extends from Highway 270 in southwest St. Louis County to Gray Summit, Mo.
The closure turned Interstate 55 into a virtual parking lot during the Wednesday evening rush hour as it served as the detour for thousands of commuters dealing with the closure of I-44, along with hundreds of other road closures.
But even that route is in peril.
On Wednesday afternoon, sandbagging efforts were performed on I-55 in an effort to keep a second major metropolitan route from closing. Officials said the latest forecast would put the Meramec River a foot over sandbags Thursday morning, which would close a second interstate and effectively cut off any connections between St. Louis and Jefferson Counties.
Gov. Jay Nixon activated the National Guard on Tuesday to secure evacuated areas and to offer traffic control.
“As rivers rise to record levels, we are continuing to support Missouri communities and protect public safety during this historic flooding event,” Nixon said in a statement. “These citizen soldiers will provide much-needed support to state and local first responders, many of whom have spent the last several days working around the clock responding to record rainfall and flooding.”
President Barack Obama took time out of his vacation in Hawaii to talk to Nixon about the flooding Wednesday morning. The President told the governor that he has directed his staff to monitor the situation closely, and to coordinate with the governor’s team on any federal assistance that may be needed.
The mayor of Valley Park, Mo., a St. Louis suburb along I-44, ordered the mandatory evacuation of some 880 residents. In nearby Eureka, firefighters told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they performed more than 50 water rescues in the past two days.
Most of the 14 reported deaths in Missouri came from motorists driving into flooded roadways.
Flood waters were receding Wednesday in Union, Mo., 50 miles southwest of St. Louis. On Tuesday, the Bourbeuse River overtook the city’s business district, flooding businesses along Highway 50.
In Illinois, some prisoners at the Menard Correctional Center near Chester had to be relocated due to minor flooding caused by the Mississippi. A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Corrections did not tell the Post-Dispatch the number of inmates affected.
The Coast Guard has closed the Mississippi River to barge traffic near St. Louis due to the high waters.
The Mississippi River is expected to crest Thursday in St. Louis at 43.7 feet, nearly 14 feet above flood stage. It would be the second highest crest on record.
The Meramec, where most of the damage has occurred, is expected to crest Thursday at 43 feet. That would be more than three feet over the record.
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