20 deaths have been blamed on flooding
Twomen missing in Missouri, two teens in Illinois
st. louis » Floodwater was starting to recede at some waterlogged Midwestern communities Thursday, but hundreds of homes were damaged and hundreds more remained evacuated. Getting through St. Louis by car, boat or train was increasingly difficult.
The Mississippi River neared record levels at many places, and a tributary, the Meramec River, surged 4 feet beyond previous records before finally starting to fall. The rare wintertime flooding was spurred by 10 inches of rain or more over a three- day period across a wide swath of Missouri and Illinois.
Twenty deaths were blamed on flooding, nearly all from motorists driving onto wet roads, and searches continued for two missing men in southwest Missouri and two missing teenagers in southern Illinois.
Some flood- weary communities were getting relief: The Missouri, Meramec and Mississippi rivers were cresting throughout the St. Louis region. The Mississippi River was slowly dropping at St. Louis after peaking about 7 ½ feet below the 1993 record. Afloodwall offered solid protection. But as thewaters flowsouth, points in southern Missouri and Illinois were awaiting the crest.
The Missouri River leveled off about 5 feet shy of the record in St. Charles, Mo., and was on the way down at Hermann and Washington, two German heritage towns in Missouri’sWine Country region.
The Meramec, southwest of St. Louis, continued to be the biggest problem, even as it began to drop after reaching record levels in the Missouri towns of Eureka, Valley Park and Arnold. Hundreds ofhomes were damaged in Eureka, an estimated 100 homes in Arnold were damaged, as well as dozens more in nearby Pacific.
Flooding from the Meramec forced closure of a 3- mile stretch of Interstate 55 south of St. Louis, snarling traffic for the fewcommutersworking on the eve of the new year.
“We were out there all night sandbagging trying to hold it back as much as we could, but it was just so much,” MoDOT spokeswoman Marie Elliott said.
The only north- south alternative to I- 55 was a congested local road.
“The other alternates thatwe would have sent motorists to basically havewater on them as well,” Elliott said.
Adding to the roadwoeswas the closure a day earlier of a 24mile section of Interstate 44 just a few miles away, hampering east- west traffic, too.
A 5- mile stretch of the Mississippi River itself remained closed by order of the Coast Guard, idling barge traffic on the busy waterway.
Train service, passenger and freight, also was slowed. Amtrak suspended its St. Louisto- Kansas City route until flooding subsides. Meanwhile, Union Pacific took two sections of track in Missouri and two in Illinois out of service because of rising water. The Missouri stretches span from Jefferson City to St. Louis and St. Louis to De Soto; the Illinois stretches are fromMount Vernon to Percy and Springfield to Nelson.
Water fromtheMeramec River cuts off Interstate 44 and Missouri 141 in southwest St. Louis County onWednesday. J. B. Forbes, St. Louis Post- Dispatch