Torrential and record-breaking rainfall caused widespread flash flooding in the St. Louis area Tuesday morning, killing at least one person, forcing rescues of people trapped in vehicles and homes, and spurring road closures including on part of Interstate 70, officials said.
In St. Louis itself, more than 9 inches of rain fell from late Monday to Tuesday, surpassing the city’s highest 24-hour rainfall total on record, which was 7.02 inches on August 19-20, 1915, the National Weather Service said.
In the wider St. Louis area, about 6 to 10 inches of rain fell from midnight to 6 a.m., according to the weather service. More rain was forecast, though it was expected to taper off late in the morning and end by mid-afternoon, the weather service’s office in St. Louis wrote.
One person was found dead in a vehicle that had become stuck in “approximately eight and a half” feet of water in western St. Louis, city Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said. Authorities checked the vehicle after a caller reported that someone may be inside, and found the body when waters receded, the chief said.
Floodwater surrounded vehicles on other St. Louis-area streets and crept up to apartments and other buildings, videos on social media showed.
A rescuer in St. Louis, kneeling on the top of the roof of one flooded car, handed a child to other rescuers in a boat, video recorded by Victorria Adams from an apartment balcony showed.
“My neighbors woke me up to tell me what was going on. Then I walked out to all of this,” Adams told CNN of the floodwaters that made the street outside her apartment a virtual river.
In St. Louis’ Ellendale neighborhood, fire personnel checked about 18 flooded homes, and rescued six people and six dogs by boat, the city fire department said early Tuesday.
Water entered Andrew Schafer’s St. Louis home “like a waterfall,” he told CNN affiliate KMOV.
“I carried all three of my dogs, three kids, and wife out,” Schafer told KMOV.
St. Louis firefighters went on about “70 different rescue assists,” Jenkerson said.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of cars that have been door deep, and also roof deep, in some of these low-lying areas.”
Parts of the St. Louis area’s MetroLink commuter rail system were flooded, and would-be riders should plan for delays of two hours or more, the provider said.
MetroLink’s outdoor Forest Park-DeBaliviere station just north of the city’s zoo was underwater, images from resident Tony Nipert show. He noticed the flooding while walking his dogs, he told CNN.
“It’s currently a river,” he wrote on Twitter about the station Tuesday morning. “I have never seen this in the 4 years I’ve lived here.”
While water in the city has receded “a little bit, now we are seeing the weight of the water caused some issues with buildings,” Jenkerson said.
“We’re having some partial roof collapse. Some of the vacant buildings are also suffering from the stress of this water,” he said. “There was a significant area over around … McCausland and Southwest where we had right around 14 to 15 homes that suffered significant flooding.”
More than 6,000 power outages were reported around 1:50 p.m. in St. Louis County, and more than 1,100 in neighboring St. Charles County, according to PowerOutage.us.
In the St. Louis suburb of Florissant, a fire department crew helped Leisha Waters and her children from their apartment building Tuesday after floodwaters surrounded it, she told CNN.
“I was in the house with the window open to get light because the power went out, and I heard the fireman on a boat yelling,” Waters said. “So me and my kids packed a bag and left.”
Floodwaters also were collecting on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, including the East St. Louis area, where parts of interstate highways or their ramps were temporarily closed, the weather service said.
Vehicles were reported submerged or otherwise stranded on flooded streets in various parts of the St. Louis area, the weather service said shortly after 6:30 a.m.
All four interstate highways heading to downtown St. Louis – I-70, I-64, I-55, and I-44 – had at least one closure because of flooding early Tuesday, KMOV reported. Motorists especially were urged to avoid I-70 in the St. Louis area, the state highway patrol said.
A stretch of I-70 was closed in both directions before sunrise in St. Peters, roughly a 30-mile drive northwest of St. Louis.
Jerome Smith found himself stuck on that part of I-70 for three hours as workers tried to clear drains, he told CNN. The highway was covered by water, which was held in by barriers on either side, video he recorded from his vehicle shows.
“You can see there’s cars up there floating around. … It’s just all boxed in – there’s nowhere for the water to go,” Smith says in the video.
Highways were mostly clear as of Tuesday afternoon and all bridges over the River des Peres were open, St. Louis public safety deputy director Heather Taylor said.
“While we hope the worst is behind us, we want to keep the public informed,” she said. “Highways are mostly clear. Avoid the highways if you can. That is critical with this rain … Parts of Highway 70, I believe, are all open as well, but they may be closed again due to additional rainfall.”
Of the more than 9 inches that fell in 24 hours in St. Louis, 7.68 inches fell in just six hours. Rainfall that intense in St. Louis has less than a 1 in 1,000 chance of happening in a given year based on historical data, according to the weather service.
But the climate crisis is pushing such extremes to become more frequent, and is supercharging rainfall around the world. The atmosphere can hold more moisture as temperatures climb, making it even more likely that significant records will be broken. More water vapor in the atmosphere means more moisture available to fall as rain, which leads to higher rainfall rates.
Human-caused fossil fuel emissions have warmed the planet a little more than 1 degree Celsius, on average, with more intense warming over land areas. Scientists are increasingly confident in the role that the climate crisis plays in extreme weather, and have warned that these events will become more intense and more dangerous with every fraction of a degree of warming.