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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.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is working around the clock to keep floodwaters away from its Grand Glaize facility in Valley Park, Mo.
Credit Screenshot | Google Maps
The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is working around the clock to keep floodwaters away from its Grand Glaize facility in Valley Park, Mo.

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.

Pacific, in Franklin County, has been hard hit.
Credit Kevin Satkus of Eureka
Pacific, in Franklin County, has been hard hit.

"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 theMeramec'scontinued 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.

How high?

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.

Illinois roads

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.

The Mississippi is extending across the bottom land at Chester, Ill., extending toward the bluffs east of Perryville, Mo. The bridge at Chester is closed, and the maximum-security Menard prison is threatened.
Credit Mariah Bargman, Chester
The Mississippi is extending across the bottom land at Chester, Ill., extending toward the bluffs east of Perryville, Mo. The bridge at Chester is closed, and the maximum-security Menard prison is threatened.

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. 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.

Inform our coverage 

This report contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network. To learn more about the Network and how you can become a source, please click here.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Follow Donna Korando on Twitter: @DonnaKorando

Copyright 2015 St. Louis Public Radio

Lippmann returned to her native St. Louis after spending two years covering state government in Lansing, Michigan. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and followed (though not directly) in Maria Altman's footsteps in Springfield, also earning her graduate degree in public affairs reporting. She's also done reporting stints in Detroit, Michigan and Austin, Texas. Rachel likes to fill her free time with good books, good friends, good food, and good baseball.
Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.
Willis Ryder Arnold is an arts and culture reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. He has contributed to NPR affiliates, community stations, and nationally distributed radio programs, as well as Aljazeera America, The New York Times blogs, La Journal de la Photographie, and LIT Magazine. He is a graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and a recipient of the Society of Professional Journalist’s award for Radio In-Depth Reporting.