O’FALLON, Mo. >> Record rainfall caused widespread flash flooding across the St. Louis area early today, killing one person, displacing many others and prompting rescues from vehicles and homes.
One person died when a car in St. Louis was found covered in more than 8 feet (2.4 meters) of water. Several puppies drowned when a building became flooded at Stray Paws Adoptables, a stray dog rescue operation in St. Peters, a St. Louis suburb. Firefighters in boats rescued other dogs from the building.
Damage across the region was widespread after a massive downpour dropped more than 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain in parts of St. Charles County and up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) elsewhere in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Most of the rain fell in a few hours shortly after midnight.
By noon, about 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain had fallen at Lambert Airport, demolishing the previous daily record of 6.85 inches set Aug. 20, 1915, when remnants of the Galveston, Texas, hurricane moved north to St. Louis. Forecasters expected more storms through the rest of the week.
Firefighters were busy with water rescues. Sections of interstates 70, 64, 55 and 44 were all closed at various times as water swamped the roadways. Some motorists took to social media to report being stranded for hours.
In the city of St. Louis, the fire department rescued people from several homes after floodwaters made it into houses. Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said at a news conference that many homes suffered significant damage, and some roofs were collapsing under the weight of the water.
Across the region, firefighters and other first responders rescued more than 100 people, mostly from vehicles that tried to pass through water-covered roadways.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of cars that have been door-deep and also roof-deep in some of these low-lying areas,” Jenkerson said.
The water was above the roof of a car found just after 10 a.m. in a neighborhood near Forest Park. One person was pulled out but pronounced dead. Their identity has not been released.
In the St. Louis County town of Brentwood, residents were forced to evacuate when Deer Creek overflowed. Rising waters also threatened homes in Ladue, one of the wealthiest cities in Missouri.
Flooding was so bad that the iconic Gateway Arch closed for the day.
National Weather Service meteorologist Marshall Pfahler said a storm stalled over the St. Louis area around midnight and kept pouring water over the same relatively narrow band.
“You have this swath of up to 10-inch amounts, and a county or two south they had a trace or even less,” Pfahler said.
The remarkable rainfall followed a period of extended drought in the region. The ground was rock-hard before Tuesday morning and Pfahler said that may have played a small role in the flash flooding. A bigger factor, he said, was that the storm hit a metro area with a lot of concrete and asphalt, rather than grassy areas that could absorb the moisture more readily.
While the St. Louis region got the worst of it, other places were soaked, too. The central Missouri town of Mexico received more than 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain. Similar rainfall totals were reported in parts of southern Illinois.
Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe declared a state of emergency. He was acting on behalf of Gov. Mike Parson, who is on an international trip promoting trade.