St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)
Jul. 27—ST. LOUIS — Debbie and Jeff Boshans awoke around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday in their basement bedroom when their phones began blaring alerts. Then they stepped out of bed into water 3 inches deep — and rising fast.
They raced to find their cat, Elliot, before the flooding reached the first floor.
“We were literally praying, asking God to stop it,” Debbie Boshans said.
Instead they were rescued by firefighters in a small boat, like hundreds of others across the region swamped by a downpour that shattered a century-old record and left a trail of chaos in its wake. Dozens of homes were flooded. Roads and rail lines were swallowed up for hours. At least one person, an unidentified man in his 60s, was killed when his car was submerged at Skinker Boulevard and Enright Avenue in St. Louis, near the Delmar Loop.
St. Louis fire Capt. Garon Mosby, in a video posted to Twitter early Tuesday, implored residents to avoid standing water. “We’re being overrun here,” he said.
In St. Louis County, residents woke up to see their cars floating across their neighborhoods. In the Metro East, police had to scramble to save nursing home residents threatened by a levee breach. And in St. Charles County, drivers got marooned on Interstate 70, a bridge collapsed and, after the floodwaters receded, neighborhoods looked like they’d been hit by a tornado.
Fire departments across the region rescued more than 400 people, mostly in St. Charles County and central and north St. Louis County, where the rain fell heaviest, and often near area creeks inundated by the deluge.
Leaders in St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jefferson City declared states of emergency, which could make the area eligible for federal aid down the line. “Communities throughout our region were devastated by last night’s record rainfall,” Mayor Tishaura O. Jones said in a statement Tuesday.
The region’s response began before sunrise, when firefighters fanned out with small boats to check vehicles and homes for anyone trapped.
‘I ain’t never seen something this bad’
In the Boshans’ neighborhood on St. Louis’ western edge, crews pulled at least six people and six dogs out in the early morning. They’d rescue at least 60 more citywide by day’s end.
On the Maplewood border, a swollen River Des Peres surged up its banks, nearly reaching the bottoms of bridges crossing it. At its confluence with Deer Creek, tree branches, plastic bottles, and a small propane tank could be seen buffeted by the rapids.
In University City, 15-year-old John Trotter heard his neighbor screaming that her young son was trapped in their basement bedroom.
He took his mom’s cast iron skillet, ran across the street, into the house, and started smashing the skillet into the floor above the bedroom, hoping to punch a hole into the basement below.
They could see the boy through the floorboards. “He’d go under water for a little bit and pop back up,” John said.
The 5-year-old’s mother repeated her son’s name over and over to keep him conscious.
John succeeded in making the hole. Then firefighters arrived and pulled the boy out.
But on a day like Tuesday, not even that good deed went unpunished.
While John was working on the floor, his mother, Jennifer Thorpe, was watching in disbelief as her 2007 Toyota Camry floated down the street. She had been planning to make it John’s 16th birthday present.
A few blocks away, Ruben Jones said he found his Chevrolet Silverado pickup in a neighbor’s yard, more than 100 feet from where he’d parked it. “The water was just tremendous,” he said. “I ain’t never seen something this bad.”
And even those who avoided the worst of the damage found their vehicles full of murky brown water. “A quarter of St. Louis is going to be looking for a mechanic,” said Damien Griffin, also of University City.
Crews rescued more than 100 from a Hazelwood apartment complex that backed up to Coldwater Creek.
One of them, Earlean Bruce, 72, was still clad in pink and gray flannel pajamas on Tuesday afternoon at a shelter in Richmond Heights. Her apartment, in a complex called The Reserve at Winding Creek, began to fill with water around 3 a.m., she said. By about 3:15 a.m., she said the police were knocking on doors, warning residents to leave.
Preparing for another round
She packed up, but by then the water was too high to get out. She waited on the second floor for a rescue boat.
“It was horrifying,” said Bruce.
It was the same story in the Metro East. Dozens of people in East St. Louis near Shoenberger Creek and Interstate 255 were forced to flee as the water rose, piling into boats with pets and the few personal items they could carry. A short drive away in Caseyville, a levy breach flooded a whole section of town, including a nursing home with residents in wheelchairs and on stretchers.
Police Chief Tom Coppotelli said city workers had to get some of them out in city dump trucks because other vehicles weren’t big enough to make it.
And that wasn’t where the rain fell hardest. In St. Charles County, Central County Fire & Rescue responders watched in awe as water levels rose more than a foot within minutes. Almost 13 inches fell in St. Peters, an unofficial record.
“I’ve never seen it come up that quick,” said Central County spokesman Jason Meinershagen.
Heather Thiele of O’Fallon started her day at 3 a.m., when the window above her gave way and water rushed in, and by the time she returned to her neighborhood, parked cars had been pushed into the middle of the street, a backyard shed sat on the curb and her possessions floated in chest-deep water in the basement.
Workers at Stray Paws Rescue in St. Peters spent the morning rushing to save their animals in 4-foot water. Ten puppies didn’t make it. “We will never get over this,” said Vicki Ferris, a shelter board member.
It may not be over.
By day’s end, authorities were warning about more storms to come.
St. Charles County Ambulance District spokesman Kyle Gaines said he was worried about another bout of rain forecasted for the evening.
“We’re preparing,” Gaines said, “for another round.”
Jacob Barker, Gabe Barnard, Nassim Benchaabane, Jesse Bogan, Erin Heffernan, Taylor Tiamoyo Harris, Katie Kull, Annika Merrilees and Aisha Sultan, of the Post-Dispatch, contributed to this report.
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