20 deaths have been blamed on flood­ing

Twomen miss­ing in Mis­souri, two teens in Illi­nois

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jim Salter

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

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