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Rising Meramec River threatens roads, homes, businesses

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UPDATED with more road closures, including Interstate 44 Monday night, and Highway 141 in Valley Park and name of drowning victim

A rapidly rising Meramec River is prompting the evacuation of parts of Valley Park and could cut the southern part of the St. Louis region off, much as it did after Christmas in 2015 — but without the benefit of a holiday week that kept many people off the roads.

Late Sunday night, the Missouri Department of Transportation closed Highway 141 in both directions at Interstate 44 near Valley Park. Officials expect it to be closed all week.

MoDOT closed a section of Highway 109 in Eureka on Monday evening and planned to close Interstate 44 between Highway 109 and Interstate 270. The interstate could remain closed the rest of the week. It also closed a section of Highway M from Interstate 55 east to Highway 60 in Jefferson County on Monday night. Other highways are expected to close as well.

Meanwhile, the death of a 77-year-old man who apparently went to look at floodwater near his home Sunday had officials again warning residents how quickly rising water can carry a person or vehicle away. The man’s body was found near a creek along Highway BB between Cedar Hill and Hillsboro.

And the coming wave of water has prompted Valley Park to issue a mandatory evacuation notice in parts of the city protected by the levee. The city says there is no indication the levee has been compromised or breached, but residents and businesses in the affected areas are expected to evacuate by noon Tuesday. 

Gov. Eric Greitens declared a state of emergency on Saturday, and federal lawmakers are pledging federal resources if needed for the recovery.

Rising water closing roads

Highway 30, Highway 21 and Highway 109 are expected to close Monday night near where they cross the Meramec, as the river pushes to near-historic highs.

It’s possible Interstate 55 could go underwater Tuesday night at the Meramec, as it was at the end of 2015. Lemay Ferry and Telegraph roads may also be closed late Tuesday.

“I don’t know that there is anybody who lives south of Interstate 70 that is going to live a normal life next week,” said Tom Blair, a Missouri Department of Transportation assistant district engineer for St. Louis, about the potential traffic problems.

And unfortunately, it appears more rain is on the way. After a bit of respite on Tuesday, more storms are predicted late in the night and continuing through Thursday. The storms could produce up to 3 inches of rain, just as the Meramec River is expected to peak.

Find the latest forecast

The river is predicted to break or nearly reach record crests later this week. Upriver, the Meramec at Steelville was already falling Monday after setting a new record at 28.71 feet earlier in the day. The old record was set in 1998. The river broke a record Monday at Sullivan, reaching 36.52 feet. The previous record, set in 1915, was 33.5 feet. 

Pacific may see the Meramec crest about a foot short of the record level of 33.4 feet. In Eureka the crest is expected to reach nearly 46 feet on Wednesday, a few inches short of the record.

In Valley Park, the river is projected to crest at more than 43 feet on Wednesday — within a foot of the record. In Arnold the Meramec may crest at roughly 44 feet on Wednesday. The record there is 47 feet. All those records date to the final days of 2015.

“Some of those (forecasts) could be adjusted one way or another,” said Mark Fuchs, a hydrologist at the weather service office in Weldon Spring.

How high will rivers get? A flood stage forecast

MoDOT officials said I-44 would close on Monday after the evening rush hour from Interstate 270 to Highway 109 — with some exceptions. Local westbound traffic will still be allowed to exit at Bowles Avenue, a couple of miles west of I-270. Local eastbound traffic also will be allowed on I-44 between Bowles and 270.

Under that scenario, Manchester Road will be the main alternate east-west route south of Highway 40 (Interstate 64).

Blair said there were no immediate plans to close Interstate 55, but MoDOT was preparing for that possibility.

The rain and rising rivers have already closed more than 700 state roads, including 77 in the St. Louis area, according to MoDOT. Officials urged the public to check MoDOT’s website for updates.

See statewide road closures on the Missouri Department of Transportation map

Interstate 44 was closed in south central Missouri between Rolla and Lebanon Sunday due to flooding from the Gasconade River and tributaries. The closures require a detour along Highway 63 and Highway 60 between Springfield and Rolla.

On Monday morning, Lincoln County Emergency Management officials announced that Highway 79 was closed due to flooding in Old Monroe, Mo. U.S. Highway 61 north of Troy, Mo., had been closed at the Cuivre River, but has been reopened.

Also closed was Highway 30 in St. Clair at the Meramec.

In northeast St. Charles County, Highway 94 was closed Monday morning between Feltes Road and Highway 67, MoDOT said.

In the same area, traffic was expected to be cut to one lane in each direction on 67 between 94 and the Clark Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River to Alton.

The Calhoun County Sheriff's Department said the Brussels Ferry is closed because of debris in the Illinois River. Also closed is the Golden Eagle Ferry over the Mississippi River to St. Charles County.

However, the Winfield Ferry (between Calhoun County and Lincoln County, Mo.) is still running. Also still running is the Kampsville Ferry over the Illinois River.

The home of the St. Louis FC soccer team near Fenton was expected to flood this week. The team said the effect on a match set for Saturday wasn't clear.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called the flooding a “scary situation for communities across our state.” She said the federal government would be ready with “any federal resources that might be needed as the flood waters recede, and our communities begin to recover.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he had been in “close contact” with Greitens and reiterated McCaskill’s federal aid promise. “While we don’t not yet know the full extent of the damage, I stand ready to advocate for any federal assistance that may be needed once those assessments are made,” Blunt said.

The American Red Cross has opened shelters near flood-hit areas of Missouri, including at Manchester United Methodist Church at 129 Woods Mill Road in Manchester and Tri-County Senior Center at 800 West Union Street in Pacific.

Evacuation in Valley Park

Valley Park Mayor Michael Pennise posted a mandatory evacuation notice to the city’s website Sunday. Those in the affected area should be out by noon Tuesday. The National Guard will be stationed at both entrances to town and will not allow anyone to come back into the levee-protected area until the evacuation order is lifted.

“We want to stress there is no indication the levee protecting the city has been compromised or breached in any way," Pennise said on the city's website. "The U.S. Corps of Engineers and city officials have been continuously inspecting the levee and there are no signs of damage or breach."

The city is providing transportation to anyone in need of assistance. Call the Valley Park Fire District at 636-225-4260 or Valley Park City Hall at 636-225-5171, ext. 6 for more information.

Volunteers along the Meramec spent part of the weekend and much of Monday filling sandbags. Among those lending a hand in Eureka on Monday was Greitens. He posted photos of his visit to flood-threatened areas on Facebook.

More volunteers were needed for Monday, at the Eureka-Pacific Elks Lodge at 19 West First Street or the St. Louis County Police precinct at 232 Vance Road in Valley Park. The Eureka Fire Protection District also is directing volunteers to Eureka High School for sandbagging efforts there.

Click to see drone footage near Eureka High

Rockwood School District, which had closed some of its schools on Monday, said all of its schools will be closed Tuesday because of worsening transportation issues caused by the flooding.

The Arnold-based Fox and High Ridge-based Northwest school districts also said they were canceling classes for Tuesday because of road closures and flooding.

Valley Park schools and some other schools are also closed; check with your district.

Man swept away

The man who drowned Sunday in Jefferson County was identified as Clifford H. Brandt of Jefferson County. Authorities said he walked to a creek near his house to survey rising water, and apparently slipped and was swept away by the current.

Brandt left his home near Highway BB and Mimi Mountain Road about 3:30 or 4 p.m. His family became concerned when he did not return, found some of his belongings along a Belews Creek bank and called for help, said Brian Gaudet, assistant chief of the Hillsboro Fire Protection District.

Searchers found his body along the shoreline less than a mile downstream about 7 p.m., Gaudet said.

Gaudet said the agencies responded to “multiple” water rescues throughout the day involving residents, especially in the Cedar Hill area, who had been stranded inside their homes due to rising flood water.

“You’ve got to be very careful and always understand the force of the water,” he said.

Chief Terry Soer of the Cedar Hill Fire Protection District said about 25 people were evacuated Monday morning from the Village Green Estates mobile home park in the Cedar Hill area because of rising Big River floodwater.  That's off Highway 30 at Industrial Drive, he said.

The storms that produced all this rain also caused other damage.

The National Weather Service received several reports of wind damage. A “very small, weak tornado” caused damage to the area near the Lake Center Marina in north St. Charles County, said Jim Sieveking, meteorologist in charge of the local office of the weather service. The tornado hit about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and had a path of less than 4 miles. It toppled trees along Elmer Dwyer Club Road, and flipped over some boats on trailers and cars. At the marina, the storm destroyed several docks.

Ashley Lisenby, Kim Bell, Mark Schlinkmann and Chuck Raasch contributed to this report.

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Stephen Deere is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Christine Byers is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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