"I'm just happy the residents are back in their homes."
That is how Valley Park Mayor Mike Pennise summed up several days of battling the rising Meramec River, west of St. Louis. He issued a mandatory evacuation order for part of the city of roughly 7,000 last week as residents and emergency officials prepared for a second round of major flooding in roughly a year and a half.
This year's high water mark was about eight-tenths of an inch lower than December 2015, when the Meramec hit about 44 feet.
"Back in 2015, it was the first time anybody's ever seen levels go that high," Pennise told St. Louis Public Radio last week after the waters started to recede.
He said the lessons from 2015 helped officials prepare for this flood. That included time-dated photos from residents and work of the Army Corps of Engineers to give a better idea of how high the water could be at a specific time.
"So we knew when things were going to close. Roads were going to close more past the 39-foot mark."
The toughest part of the week for Pennise was likely watching residents — his neighbors in this small community — move to higher ground.
"It was hard to have them leave, I mean this was their home," he said.
"This is where they are happy and to put them out of their home for two or three days was tough."
Even with the emotion that comes with an evacuation order, Pennise said he believes many realize that dealing with flooding is essentially a way of life in a city so close to the Meramec.
"The majority of the residents understand what the river can do. They have little problem. They know we are going to do the best that we can to keep the waters from their homes," he said.
Last week's flood washed out a major celebration. The city was supposed to mark its 100th anniversary Friday with a cake and ice cream social. It was intended to be a major event for Valley Park residents in 1917. Pennise said the cekebration will be held later this year.
He tried to stay positive, despite the party postponement.
"We held off and survived another flood. And the levee held for the town. So it's a two-fold, a happy situation."
- The damage assessment, as of last Friday in Valley Park, included:
- Residents in 352 homes were asked to evacuate. 16 residents stayed.
- Roughly 55 businesses were shut down
- A few homes on Vance Road sustained water damage
- The sand wall gave way at the Steak 'n Shake
- The Taco Bell sustained water damage as did a gas station in the area.
Pennise described the damage as minimal.
"Could have been a lot worse," he said.
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