Ripple effect: Days of flooding force schools, hospitals, residents to make drastic adjustments
A second round of heavy rain rolled through the already soaked and flooded St. Louis metro area Wednesday, leading to longer school closures and heightened worries among affected residents.
Up to 4 inches of rain is expected through Thursday evening, further frustrating travelers who rely on two major interstates in the area. Even so, rivers in the area are forecast to crest Wednesday.
One way out
About 20 miles south of St. Louis, Arnold residents are waiting to see if the Meramec River crests at an expected 46 feet. If it does, those living near Starling Airport Road will need to leave.
“We only got one way in and one way out to our apartment. So we’re getting ready to experience some good flooding here,” Larry Musick said. “We may have to start packing up and go to a friend’s house or find another location to stay.”
Neighbors raced against the rising river to protect their homes on Wednesday, as dozens of volunteers filled sandbags.
It’s Ted Evans’ job to drive the sandbags on his ATV to the front lines of the flooding fight. He has plenty of experience, having gone through major floods in 1993 and, more recently, December 2015.
“We’ve got everything out of our house … We’re just pumping the sewer lines to save these houses and these houses right here, ‘cause they all flooded in 2015.”
At Dylan’s Sports Bar and Grill nearby, Tommi Leasck said over a beer that she’s waiting to see how much the river rises before leaving the home she shares with her mother. But they don’t really have anywhere else to go.
“I am a fighter. I learned that about myself in the last flood. I learned that I can handle a lot more than what I thought I could. And I learned what is really important to me,” Leasck said. “But I am getting close to my limit in the sense that I just want to walk away. But my mom can't walk away and I can't leave her behind.”
School’s out for … the time being
Several school districts in St. Louis and Jefferson counties may have to extend their term because of the floods. Most of the buildings themselves are not engulfed, but are surrounded by sandbags holding floodwaters at bay, or are otherwise inaccessible.
In the Valley Park district, where Interstate 44 has been shut down for days and school is canceled all week, superintendent Dave Knes said that “the levee did the job it was supposed to.”
School cancelations are about “student safety,” Knes and others said, even though it’s an inopportune time for students and teachers to be at home because many were scheduled to have due to standardized test this week or next.
"Everything needs to be consolidated, and it is sad,” Fox School District Superintendent Jim Wipke said. “Our calendar is set up where we believe we’re going to be able to get in all of our state testing.”
Both Wipke and Valley Park’s Knes said they’ll apply for a waiver from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education next week in order to shorten the school year.
More than 20 percent of the Mehlville School District’s staff can’t get to the schools, including 22 bus drivers, according to district spokesman John Wolff, who said schools will be closed for several more days.
But there are schools that are underwater, including Eureka High School in the Rockwood School District. To reach it, Superintendent Eric has been hitching a ride on a U.S. Coast Guard boat.
"This was an all-too-familiar scene as I made my way to the school with the assistance of the United States Coast Guard once again in a boat,” he wrote on the district’s Facebook page Tuesday night (and tweeted a video of the ride). “We are doing all we can to fight the water that is threatening our school.”
Hospitals find ways to retrieve patients
Two south St. Louis County hospitals, St. Anthony’s Medical Center and St. Clare Hospital, are still seeing patients even though floodwaters are cutting off some routes leading to them.
The rain has grounded helicopters, so National Guard members are on hand to drive patients who are in critical condition to St. Anthony’s Medical Center.
At St. Clare Hospital in Fenton, operations manager Kelly Pearce says about 50 nurses and support workers, including himself, have slept in empty patient rooms to make sure they can be at work.
“It’s not really a matter of is the water going to inundate the hospital, but can we get people and supplies so that we can safely take care of our patients, and the answer to that is we can,” Pearce said.
Employees whose families were impacted by the flood have been told to stay home, he added.
Durrie Bouscaren contributed to this report.
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