Flooded areas of the St. Louis region braced for another round of heavy rain Wednesday, the last thing they need with rivers in several places at or near record levels.
Heavy rain last weekend resulted in a sudden rise in rivers in Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas. After a couple of days of calm weather, forecasters expected 2 inches of rain or more in parts of the same hard-hit areas through Thursday.
Missouri has seen the worst of it so far. Five people have died in flooding in Missouri, and several towns have been damaged. Along the Meramec River in suburban St. Louis, thousands of sandbags were protecting about 50 homes and several businesses in Eureka, and a levee was bulging at the seams in nearby Valley Park, where many residents have evacuated.
St. Louis County officials say 200 homes along the Meramec have been damaged in the flooding and another 1,500 are potentially in harm’s way.
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U.S. 50 reopens
U.S. 50 west of Lebanon reopened to traffic late Wednesday morning after waters receded from the roadway.
Police were waiting earlier in the day for Illinois Department of Transportation officials to inspect the roadway before reopening it.
A number of drivers were trying to drive through the closed roadway and had to be turned back by police Wednesday morning.
Interstate 55 in Missouri closes
Southbound lanes of Interstate 55 in Missouri closed before noon Wednesday, with northbound lanes expected to close later in the day, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.
The interstate was closed at the Meramec River between St. Louis and Jefferson County and was to remain closed for the rest of the week.
The Meramec River in Eureka crested Tuesday night at 46.1 feet as expected by the National Weather Service and waters continued to recede. The Meramec River in Valley Park was expected to crest early Wednesday afternoon, with a projected crest of 44.1 feet. As of noon Wednesday, the river was at at 43.2 feet.
West Alton evacuated
Residents were being asked to evacuate a small Missouri town Wednesday because the rain-swollen Missouri River was threatening to topple a nearby levee.
City officials were urging West Alton’s roughly 500 residents to leave as heavy rain continues to hit the area about 20 miles north of St. Louis.
Another levee breached earlier Wednesday in Franklin County, southwest of the city, though the flooding affected mostly farmland.
Also, the Great River Road from Alton to Grafton was closed Wednesday due to flooding.
Rain will add to woes
A flash flood watch remained in effect for the area as 2-4 inches of additional rain was expected Wednesday. More rain meant more woes for communities in Missouri, which saw the worst of the flooding.
The additional rain could exacerbate flooding, hydrologist Mark Fuchs told the BND on Monday.
“That rain obviously is falling on already soaked soil. The potential for rapid runoff is high. I think we will see some pretty high potential for area flooding … In all likelihood, with the flooding that is already taking place, this will create a second round of flooding or prolong the overflowing waters,” Fuchs said.
Here is the latest list of road closures due to flooding from the Illinois Department of Transportation:
▪ Illinois 3 in Cora is closed at the Jackson County line. Cora levee flood gates are closed.
▪ Illinois 100 in Grafton is closed from U.S. 67 in Alton to Illinois 16.
▪ Illinois 155 in Prairie Du Rocher is closed. Levee gates closed.
▪ Water Street in Chester is closed.
▪ Illinois 3 south of Chester.
▪ Kaskaskia Street in Chester is closed.
▪ U.S. 67 from the Clark Bridge going into Missouri from Alton will have one lane of two-way traffic in the northbound lanes.
▪ The Brussels Ferry is closed.
The Chester Bridge will close Thursday at noon as the flood gates on U.S. 51 in Perryville, Mo. closed. However, Illinois the Cape Girardeau bridge will remain open for those needing to get to and from Illinois to Perryville or McBride.
In Missouri, repairs to flood-damaged Interstate 44 at Hazelgreen in Laclede County are complete, and the interstate is back open to traffic at that location. Motorists can now travel I-44 across southern and mid-Missouri, but the interstate is still closed for 25 miles in St. Louis from Route 100 to Interstate 270.
Interstate 55 over the Meramec River was still open early Wednesday, but it was expected to close later in the morning.
In Illinois, much of the central and southern parts of the state were under flood warnings Wednesday. Two southern Illinois counties, Jackson and Franklin, declared disasters due to flood damage.
Hundreds of roads were closed across three Midwest states, including a 57-mile stretch of Interstate 44 from central to southern Missouri, and a 23-mile stretch in suburban St. Louis. A portion of Interstate 55 in St. Louis County was scheduled to close before daybreak Wednesday due to flooding on the Meramec.
The nation’s biggest rivers were flooding, too. Significant flooding is forecast by the end of the week on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis at towns such as Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Cairo, Illinois. Several points on the Missouri River in eastern Missouri are expected to rise 10 feet above flood stage or higher by the end of the week.
River traffic halted
Flooding prompted officials to halt traffic along the Mississippi River at St. Louis, meaning a vital passageway for transporting agricultural products and other goods was temporarily closed.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Mississippi River to all traffic near St. Louis late Tuesday. The 14.5-mile closure is an inconvenience for barges. But the federal agency says it’s necessary for safety reasons due to high water and a swift current.
The Coast Guard wasn’t sure when the river would reopen.
Heavy rain over the weekend caused the Mississippi and smaller rivers to swell.
Mississippi, Kaskaskia crest levels
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District said all levees along the Mississippi River near St. Louis were “performing as designed.”
The river was expected to crest at various stages through the remainder of the week.
In Grafton, the river was expected to crest at 27.8 feet. Flood stage is 18 feet.
“It’s actually nowhere near the record set in 1993,” when the river crested at 98.2 feet, U.S. Army Corps spokeswoman Amanda Kruse said.
Here are flood-level points along the Mississippi River as of Wednesday morning and their predicted crest stages:
▪ Cape Girardeau: 42 feet (32 feet flood level), expected crest 48.5 feet on Saturday. Record is 48.8 feet on Jan. 1, 2016.
▪ Chester: 40.1 feet (20 feet flood level), expected crest 44.7 feet on Saturday. Record is 49.7 feet on Aug. 1, 1993.
▪ Mel Price Lock and Dam in Alton: 31.8 feet (21 feet flood level), expected crest 33.8 feet on Saturday. Record is 42.7 feet on Aug. 1, 1993.
▪ St. Louis: 38.7 (30 feet flood level), expected crest 41.1 feet on Friday. Record is 49.5 feet on Aug. 1, 1993.
▪ The Kaskaskia River at Vandalia was at 21 feet (18 feet flood level) Wednesday morning, and was expected crest at 26.9 feet on Saturday. Record is 27.8 on April 19, 2013.
Trent Legg and Dan Grant, United States Geological Survey hydrologic technicians, said they spent several hours today measuring the flow levels of the Kaskaskia River near the Washington County line near Venedy.
“If we get another three inches like they’re talking, there’s no tellin’ what (the river will) do, honestly, being this high already — it’s not going to take much,” Grant said.
Legg said the critical streamflow data they collect is important for the protection of life, property, motorists and the environment.
“The readings the USGS gather is used for the National Weather Service’s flood forecasts and for the use of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Legg said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.