The worst of the dangerous, deadly winter flood is over in the St. Louis area, leaving residents of several water-logged communities to spend the first day of 2016 assessing damage, cleaning up and figuring out how to bounce back – or in some cases, where to live.
Farther south, things were getting worse: Record and near-record crest predictions of the Mississippi River and levee breaks threatened homes in rural southern Missouri and Illinois. Two more levees succumbed Friday, bringing to at least 11 the number of levee failures.
The flood, fueled by more than 10 inches of rain over a three-day period that began last weekend, is blamed for 22 deaths. Searchers were still looking for five missing people – two teenagers in Illinois, two men in Missouri and a country music singer in Oklahoma.
On Friday, water from the Mississippi, Meramec and Missouri rivers was largely receding in the St. Louis area.
Two major highways – Interstate 44 and Interstate 55 – reopened south of St. Louis, meaning commuters who return to work next week won’t have hourslong detours. Some evacuees were allowed to return home.
But in the far southwestern tip of Illinois, the 500 or so people living behind the Len Small levee, which protects the hamlets of Olive Branch, Hodges Park, Unity and rural homes, were urged to move to higher ground after the Mississippi began pouring over the levee.
Alexander County Board Chairman Chalen Tatum said sandbagging efforts were cut off because it was simply too dangerous for the volunteers. Far more water is to come before the Sunday crest.
“It’s going to get ugly,” he said.
In St. Mary, Mo., a town of about 360 residents 50 miles south of St. Louis, neighbors and volunteers placed sandbags around homes after a small agricultural levee broke.
The Mississippi River was expected to crest there today at about 31/2 feet below the 1993 record.