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At least one dead after historic rainfall near St. Louis prompts high-water rescues

Police wade through flood waters looking for those in their cars. One fatality was reported after a driver was found in his car in 9 feet of water. Some areas in the St. Louis area received over 11 inches of water from heavy rains late Monday night and Tuesday morning. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

A historic and life-threatening flash flooding event unfolded across the St. Louis metro area early Tuesday, leaving motorists stranded in feet of water and prompting significant disruptions to travel and daily routines.

One fatality due to the fast-rising floodwaters was confirmed by St. Louis city officials shortly before noon local time Tuesday.

The city’s fire chief, Dennis Jenkerson, said a car was submerged in about 8.5 feet of water in a low-lying area of the city and a civilian’s body was later recovered from the car. The fire department responded to about 70 calls for rescue or assistance throughout the morning, Jenkerson said.

Tuesday afternoon, St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency due to the floods, allowing for federal funding to help relieve damage costs for residents and small businesses.

Missouri Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe also signed an executive order on behalf of the state’s Governor, Mike Parson, which activates the Missouri State Emergency Operations Plan for more assistance.

“We want to ensure that our communities have every resource available to respond and protect Missourians,” Parson said in a Tuesday release.

St. Louis shattered its all-time rainfall record for any day as 9.07 inches fell through noon CDT Tuesday, with most of this rain falling within a five-hour time frame. This broke the previous record of 6.85 inches set 107 years ago as the moisture from what was left of the Galveston Hurricane of 1915 pounded the city on Aug. 20 of that year.

Rainfall amounts over a foot were reported in St. Peters, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, as downpours continued to plague the area. Major flooding remains possible near the city’s Dardenne Creek, as the water level at the creek rose to 23.35 feet Tuesday afternoon.

In Wentzville, Missouri, about 40 minutes northwest of St. Louis, totals surpassed 11 inches.

Local officials urged people to avoid travel as high water clogged roadways throughout the region. Video footage showed floodwaters submerging portions of Interstate 70, forcing the closure of that highway in both directions ahead of the typically bustling morning commute. Closures were also reported on I-64, I-270 and U.S. Route 61.

The St. Louis Fire Department responded to approximately 18 homes that were experiencing substantial flooding with trapped occupants. Six people and six dogs were rescued via boat, with 15 other people choosing to shelter in place. Power outages had eclipsed 20,000 in the region as of 10 a.m. CDT Tuesday, with power restored to many by provider Ameren Missouri in the afternoon after reporting “significant damage” to various area substations and electrical equipment.

As the waters receded as Tuesday went on, Jenkerson said there were reports of partial roof collapses on buildings, including several vacant properties, that were stressed by the weight of the water.

St. Louis resident Tony Nipert shared photos from the city’s Skinker DeBaliviere neighborhood, located northwest of downtown. Nipert told AccuWeather that he had never seen flooding like this in the four years he lived in the area. The nearby Forest Park DeBaliviere Metrolink train station was completely flooded, according to pictures he shared on Twitter.

“I woke up to let my dogs out this morning and could see the [train] tracks flooded like a river from my sunroom,” he told AccuWeather. “This is not normal,” he noted on his Twitter account.

Brittney Perry, a 32-year-old St. Louis resident, shared a video on Twitter showing her mother’s flooded backyard in University City, a suburb just outside of St. Louis, with cars nearly completely submerged.

“Her backyard is a whole lake at this point, smh,” Perry wrote on Twitter.

“The floodwaters were quick and sudden, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before in my life. The rain was literally non-stop pouring down for all hours of the night pouring into this morning,” Perry told AccuWeather.

“It was extremely horrific watching our whole basement and garage flood, losing several sentimental items including an electric guitar from my late father,” she added. Her father died earlier this year and, she said, his car is one of those “seen submerged in our backyard.”

In nearby Saint Charles, Missouri, city officials said a pedestrian bridge collapsed due to erosion caused by the heavy rain.

At one point during the early morning hours of Tuesday, nearly 1 million people within the densely populated metro area were within a flash flooding emergency — a National Weather Service alert withheld for only the most extreme flooding events.

Severe flooding also hit the St. Louis Lambert International Airport, which remained operational as of 8 a.m. CDT Tuesday. Meanwhile, the city’s iconic Gateway Arch closed Tuesday as a result of the record rainfall.

“The big point is that flash flooding doesn’t end when the rain ends,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Dean DeVore said.

The Dardenne Creek at St. Peters rose dramatically in the early morning hours of Tuesday. Waters rose 7.8 feet between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., local time, and nearly 9 inches within 5 minutes during that window, according to AccuWeather meteorologist and Senior Weather Editor Jesse Ferrell, who pointed to the flash flooding incident as an example of how quickly waters can rise in an excessive rainfall event like the one that unfolded in the St. Louis area.

AccuWeather meteorologists say additional rounds of intense rainfall are expected to keep flash flood dangers high from Kansas and Missouri to Virginia through the week.