Downpours swamp homes in metro-east; families evacuated

News-DemocratApril 18, 2013 

Heavy rains on Thursday flooded areas of the metro-east, forcing two families to be evacuated in East St. Louis and firefighters in a boat to rescue a stranded motorist.

Scott Air Force Base experienced flooding across its nearly 3,600 square acres sprawling between Mascoutah and Belleville.

The air base received 5.11 inches of rain in a 12-hour period, according to Ben Miller, a meterologist with the National Weather Service, in Weldon Spring, Mo., about 20 miles west of St. Louis.

All gates but the Shiloh Gate at the airbase were closed due to flooding. Flooding around the golf course was extensive, according to base personnel.

The weather service does not keep rainfall records for Scott, Miller said, "But I would venture to guess that it would be a record for the day because a lot of the records in the area for today are well under 3 inches."

No official rainfall total was available for Belleville, but it likely received at least 5 inches of rain, Miller said.

Downtown St. Louis Airport, in Sauget, received 3.14 inches of rain, Miller said.

Meanwhile, Granite City received 2.8 inches of rain Thursday, while Wood River received 2.55.

Flood conditions Thursday afternoon led emergency workers to rescue six families from an East St. Louis neighborhood of 40 to 45 houses just off State Street near the Interstate 255 exit.

Firefighters near Mascoutah used a boat to rescue Dan Bauer, of Venedy, after he stopped his car about 12:40 p.m. Thursday on Illinois 158 between Illinois 177 and 161. Within two minutes the water was up, in and over the car.

"It was like a dike broke," he said.

Bauer was able to get to a high spot and waited about an hour for crews to rescue him. Direct access was difficult for firefighters because several roads were closed by the flooding.

Flood waters even went after the dogs near Belleville.

Workers at the St. Clair County Animal Control building off South 11th Street in Belleville spent the afternoon finding shelter for the 80 animals staying there while Richland Creek turned into an angry, aggressive river.

"We were never really breached by the creek, although it got pretty close," St. Clair County Director of Animal Services Jim Jacquot said. "Most of the mess in our building came up through the sewer."

Jacquot said he believes the building is going to be fine once the water recedes. That task doesn't seem nearly as daunting as trying to find places to house all the animals displaced from the shelter.

"This building was made to handle a lot of water because we're spraying it out all the time while we're cleaning it," Jacquot said. "We sent dogs everywhere. So I think the bigger problem is going to be figuring out where they all went. Cleaning up won't be nearly as big of a deal."

A clinic offering rabies vaccination, microchipping, flea and tick treatments and certificates for spaying and neutering, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Animal Control, has been canceled and will be rescheduled.

Fairview Heights Police Department Lt. Steve Evans said flooding was so bad in some residential areas that emergency workers are warning motorists and pedestrians to stay away from manhole covers.

"The sewers are getting full of water and when they get over-filled the water pushes those things up and sometimes they don't re-seat correctly," Evans said. "You can get a car tire stuck in them or the bigger concern would be if they were open and school was letting out. We don't know of any problems with the manholes. But we're asking people to be on the alert."

Evans said Fairview Heights had a lot of flooding on the east side of town. Many roads in residential neighborhoods were either impassible or nearly impassible.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said the pressure on the city's systems were so great this time, and there were flooding and sewage issues all over the city.

"We saw manhole covers that were just shooting from the ground," Eckert said.

Residents across the region complained that their yards and basements were full of water.

Police blocked off roads all over the metro-east because they were covered with water. The trouble included:

* Belle Valley Elementary School Superintendent Lou Obernuefemann said problems with water over the roads along Mascoutah Avenue forced school leaders to call parents to ask them to find other arrangements for students who normally ride the bus home.

"There's flooding over the roads in that area and the buses can't run," Obernuefemann said. "So that's been something of a problem. Besides our phones being out, the school, itself, hasn't had any problems."

* In Belleville, water topped a dam at one of the park lakes in the new Bicentennial Park off 20th Street. There also was water flowing through the park and underneath the new South 17th Street extension, creating a cascading waterfall.

* Bus service was delayed in the Edwardsville School District as five roads were impassible in the district, according to Superintendent Ed Hightower. Parents of children whose regular bus stop cannot be reached were asked to contact the bus service to arrange an alternate pickup for their child.

* Union Hill Road was closed at Frank Scott Parkway because of flooding to the north.

Swansea Police Chief Mike Arnold said there was water over the roadway near Luja Nursery, making it impassible in both directions.

* Illinois 4 north of Lebanon and U.S. 50 east of Lebanon were closed late Thursday morning. Flooding closed the highway west of Lebanon earlier in the day.

* In Fairview Heights, O'Fallon Drive was closed from Circle Drive to Pleasant Hill Road. There was also flooding to the south on Illinois 159 near Ednick Drive in Swansea.

* Flooding closed at least one lane of southbound Illinois 159 just north of Huntwood Road.

* In East St. Louis the confluence of intestates 64 and 55-70 was slowed to a trickle of traffic, according to the Illinois State Police.

* In Granite City, police reported that water was flowing heavily on 20th Street near U.S. Steel and on Maryville Road. As of midafternoon, neither road was closed, but public works employees were watching it carefully and motorists were urged to drive carefully.

* In nearby Alorton, flood waters closed the entry ramps onto Interstate 255 at Illinois 15.

A clogged drain was blamed for causing 2 inches to a foot of water to back up on the interstates at Exchange Avenue.

According to Illinois State Police Trooper Calvin Dye Jr., the driver of a westbound semi truck could not see a drop-off created by construction on the right shoulder because of standing water.

The truck slid off the road there at about 8 a.m., blocking part of the roadway and shutting down the interstate for about 20 minutes while a tow truck pulled the semi back on the road. Traffic was snarled all the way to Interstate 255 and still backed up an hour after the accident.

Also in East St. Louis, River Park Drive near City Hall was blocked off because of high water.

* In Highland, a stranded motorist needed assistance escaping a flooded area early in the rains, according to police. A portion of Interstate 70 at the Illinois 143 exit ramp near Highland was flooded and closed.

Non-mission-essential personnel were given the authorization to leave early as portions of the base were without power.

In Springfield, Gov. Pat Quinn activated the State Incident Response Center to assess flooding issues and to try to get help where it was needed.

"I urge everyone to stay alert and avoid flooded areas," Quinn said. "Residents should tune in to local TV and radio stations for updated information about any closed routes or evacuations."

* Traffic was intermittently at a standstill on Interstates 44, 55, 64 and 270 on the St. Louis side of the river Thursday morning due to heavy downpours that diminished visibility to nearly zero.

* In addition to heavy rain, winds up to 45 miles an hour made the morning drive hazardous. Crosswinds made it difficult for drivers to stay in their lanes at times.

Some information for this report was provided by photojournalist Derik Holtmann.

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