Nixon activates National Guard as high water threatens treatment plants
Updated on Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 1:30 p.m. with information on more evacuations and road closures.
Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard on Tuesday to help rain-weary communities deal with near-record flooding.
Nixon said in a statement that the guard would provide security in evacuated areas and direct traffic around closed roads. Forty roads remain closed due to flooding in the Missouri part of the St. Louis region, out of 225 statewide.
The floods are impacting traffic all over the state. By mid-day Wednesday, Interstate 44 was closed for a 24-mile stretch from Interstate 270 all the way to Route 100 in Gray Summit in Franklin County. The Missouri Department of Transportation reports that more than 225 roads are closed due to flooding.
The high water is also putting pressure on the region's sewer system. Floodwaters from the Meramec River knocked out power to the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District's wastewater treatment plant in Fenton late Monday night, and the utility expects it to be completely underwater by Thursday. That means 6 million gallons a day of untreated sewage are flowing into the Meramec.
"We have put plugs in the sewers, so that the river levels would not reflect into the sewers and get into people's basements," said Brian Hoelscher, the utility's executive director.
He said MSD had no idea when the Fenton plant would come back online.
"The question is even when we start. The key to this is for us to be ready, and as the river slowly goes down, we simply jump in and start doing what we can do," Hoelscher said.
MSD reported the spill to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and asked people to avoid contact with the sewage.
MSD is also working feverishly to keep the Meramec from flooding the Grand Glaize treatment plant in Valley Park, Hoelscher said.
"We have both a maintenance yard and a treatment plant there," he said. "We're moving all the mobile equipment out, and we're trying to isolate all the structures and plant facilities with a four-foot high sandbag wall to try and hopefully let the plant ride the event out."
Evacuations and closures
Citizens of Valley Park were ordered to evacuate Wednesday morning. The mayor gave roughly 800 residents until noon to move out of the area.
The rising water also prompted officials in West Alton, Mo., in St. Charles County, to issue a voluntary evacuation order Tuesday for the town of just over 500 people.
"If you cannot safely stay in your home, it is time to leave now," the Rivers Point Fire Protection District wrote on Facebook just before 11 a.m. Tuesday. The Mississippi River was already 12 feet above flood stage at that point, and by 5 p.m. Tuesday the Missouri Department of Transportation had closed the roads out of town.
The U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday shut down a five-mile stretch of the Mississippi near St. Louis, where the waters are expected to crest Thursday at 44 feet, more than 14 feet above flood stage.
"The decision was based on the bridges near St. Louis," said Lt. Sean Haley, a Coast Guard spokesman. "During the flooding events this summer, we had a number of collisions with some of the bridges. Some of them resulted in fatalities. When the river rises, there’s a lack of clearance, and also the water velocity increases."
In Arnold, police told residents that Ameren Missouri would shut off all electricity in city neighborhoods north of Starling Airport Road. Resident Charles Huey, 31, surveyed the area and spoke with friends who were putting sand bags around their their homes and their neighbors' in preparation for the Meramec's continued rise.
"Some of them are optimistic that it won't reach this high, but others are saying they're hoping they don't lose everything in their homes," he said. "It's mixed feelings of desperation and anxiousness toward what the rivers going to do."
In south St. Louis, hundreds of volunteers heeded a call from Mayor Francis Slay and helped fill 36,000 sandbags that would be used to prevent the River Des Peres from flooding a l0w-lying area along Alabama Avenue. Extra bags will be sent to Jefferson County to help protect a water treatment facility there.
In Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner issued a disaster proclamation covering seven Illinois counties: Calhoun, Jackson, Jersey, Madison, Monroe, Randolph and St. Clair. The St. Clair County Emergency Operations Center has been opened and can answer some questions about aid. Its number is 618-825-2682.
As of mid-afternoon Tuesday, the Mississippi was expected to top out at 43.7 feet on Thursday in St. Louis and crest Friday at 49.7 feet in Chester and 48.5 feet in Cape Girardeau. In Alton, the 38-foot crest expected late Wednesday would be right at the 1993 mark. All levels are close to records.
The Red Cross reported that, as of Tuesday, eastern Missouri shelters are operating in Arnold, Pacific, St. Robert, St. Charles and Cape Girardeau; and Bethalto and Granite City in Illinois.
The list below is as of Tuesday afternoon. As things can change quickly, check the Illinois Department of Transportation website if you think a road might close.
In Madison County, following are closed: Illinois-143 between I-255 & Illinois-111; Illinois-100 is closed between US-67 and Illinois-16; Marine Road from Lake Road to Hunter School Road; Old Alton Edwardsville Road between Bender Road and Illinois-143; Chain of Rocks Rd between Illinois-157 & Illinois-111 and at Sand Road; south bound US-67 from Clark Bridge to SB US-67 from Clark Bridge to IL-143-143
In St. Clair County, US-50 between Rieder Road and Belleville Street and Illinois-161 from Charles Lane to 6th Street are closed.
The Golden Eagle and Brussels ferries are closed.
According to a press release, the United Way of Greater St. Louis’ Volunteer Center and AmeriCorps-St. Louis are working to connect volunteers with sandbagging and other flood protection efforts. STLVolunteer.org will have a list of needs. Those who want to work must be 18 or accompanied by a parent or guardian, and no one younger than 13 can help. Closed-toe shoes and gloves are required.
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