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Residents describe having to flee their homes barefoot after record-breaking flooding in St. Louis. And there’s more rain on the way

By Nouran Salahieh, Elizabeth Wolfe and Raja Razek, CNN

By just 7 a.m. Tuesday, St. Louis residents found themselves experiencing the wettest day in the city’s recorded history, as roads filled with water and widespread flooding overtook cars, highways and homes.

As the hours stretched on, the rain continued to pour and floodwaters inundated the city and surrounding areas, forcing people to flee or wait for rescue crews to find them.

Jessica Perez was woken by her son at about 3:30 a.m. to find her basement flooded with several inches of water, she told CNN. Video taken by Perez shows the basement blanketed by murky water, soaking the legs of furniture as Christmas ornaments and other items float about.

The water had receded by 9 a.m., revealing a layer of debris and black sludge and leaving everything in the basement ruined, Perez said. “Never in my life have I experienced something like this,” she said.

From late Monday night to Tuesday, more than 9 inches of rain fell on St. Louis, surpassing the city’s highest 24-hour rainfall total on record, which was 7.02 inches on August 19-20, 1915.

Though the downpour subsided Tuesday afternoon, the area is expected to receive less severe rainfall Wednesday and Thursday, which could lead to flash flooding in areas that were soaked by Tuesday’s storms, the National Weather Service said.

The flooding left at least one person dead Tuesday. The man’s body was found in a vehicle that had been submerged under more than 8 feet of water, city Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said. Police were called to the low-lying area by a concerned resident and found the body when the water receded, he said.

Rescuers fanned out across the area to help stranded residents stuck in the flooding. The fire department responded to about 18 homes where people were trapped, rescuing six people and six dogs, the department said. Approximately 15 people chose to shelter in place.

A state of emergency was declared for the area by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, which allows the state to ask for federal relief funding, Page said in a tweet. Shelters for displaced residents were set up around the region.

Among those sheltering Tuesday was a family from the suburb of University City, who told CNN affiliate KSDK water was pouring into their home so quickly that they had to flee barefoot, leaving behind medication, walkers and canes. But the items they will mourn the most, they said, are their irreplaceable sentimental belongings, like photos of family members who are no longer living.

Highways turned into rivers

The flooding inundating homes also transformed roads into rushing rivers, forcing multiple street closures as vehicles became submerged window-deep and drivers were left stranded throughout the city, waiting for rescuers on boats.

At one point Tuesday, 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, KMOV reported.

A stretch of I-70 in the St. Louis area — where vehicles were seen stuck in the water — was closed in both directions during the early morning, and motorists were urged to avoid the interstate.

“You can see there’s cars up there floating around,” driver Jerome Smith said in a video he took while stuck on I-70 for three hours.

By Tuesday afternoon, highways were mostly clear and all bridges over the River des Peres were open, said Heather Taylor, St. Louis’ deputy director of public safety.

It wasn’t just drivers who saw hourslong delays Tuesday. Parts of the St. Louis area’s MetroLink commuter rail system were flooded, with potential damage to equipment threatening closures lasting more than two weeks as services are restored, according to the city’s transit agency.

Images showed water rushing through the Forest Park-DeBaliviere Metrolink station. “It’s currently a river … I have never seen this in the four years I’ve lived here,” said Tony Nipert, who lives near the station.

The severe flooding drenching the region also heavily damaged electrical equipment, with thousands of power outages reported in St. Louis County. By the afternoon, power had been restored to nearly 20,000 customers, according to electric power utility Ameren.

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.

The climate crisis is supercharging rainfall around the world, with climbing temperatures making record-breaking downpours more likely as more moisture is stored in the atmosphere, experts say. Scientists are increasingly confident in the role that the climate crisis plays in extreme weather.

Big one-day precipitation dumps that used to happen once a decade (between 1850 and 1900) are expected to become more common, according to a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

‘Potentially significant’ flash flooding possible elsewhere in US this week

In some states to the east of Missouri, more storms over the next couple of days, combined with already saturated soils, could lead to “potentially significant areas of flash flooding,” the Weather Prediction Center said.

A moderate risk — or level 3 of 4 — of excessive rainfall exists Wednesday and Thursday for parts of Kentucky, West Virginia and northern Tennessee, the prediction center said.

But those are just the areas of greatest risk. A “conveyor belt of heavy showers and thunderstorms” will stretch from the Southwest to the central Appalachians over the next few days, the center said.

Flash flooding could happen from the Ozarks through the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, and in parts of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and by Friday, western Kansas, according to the center.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Amy Simonson, Amy Roberts, Sharif Paget, Sara Smart, Melissa Alonso, Jason Hanna and Caroll Alvarado contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN-Weather/Environment

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