As flooding receded Saturday in the St. Louis area, residents to the south prepared for high water by stacking sandbags, moving furniture to higher floors or by evacuating.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner toured communities in Alexander County, the southernmost part of the state, where levee breaches have already sent people fleeing. The Mississippi River is expected to crest Sunday in East Cape Girardeau and on Monday in nearby Cairo.
“Some communities have actually been hit harder than the ’93 flood,” Rauner said Saturday, referring to the benchmark for flood catastrophes in the region.
Rauner said five levees in Alexander County already have been breached, CNN affiliate KFVS reported.
As the runoff from the deluges that hit around Christmas gathered in rivers that empty into the Mississippi River, downstream gauges are predicting potential flooding for areas in southern Missouri and Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Flood warnings still covered areas where 8 million people live in 16 states.
The Mississippi is predicted to crest in Memphis on January 9; Greenville, Mississippi, on January 14; Vicksburg, Mississippi, on January 16; Natchez, Mississippi, on January 17; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on January 19.
Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen said the city government has been planning ways to deal with the flood for about a week, CNN affiliate WATN reported.
“We have all of our pumps that would take care of any floodwaters in place, we have barriers in place. We learned a lot from the 2011 flood,” McGowen said.
Cleanup in St. Louis County
In St. Louis, the river crested Friday at 42.58 feet — just shy of the 1993 level. Residents returning to waterlogged communities began the painstaking process of surveying the damage, cleaning up and salvaging whatever they could.
Jason Peck of Eureka found that three to four feet of floodwater wiped out his basement and living room. Recalling the damage to his son’s room brought Peck close to tears.
“I didn’t believe it was going to get like this,” he told CNN.
His family had planned for the flooding, he said. They placed sandbags around the house and took other precautions. After midnight on Tuesday, however, the preparations appeared inadequate.
“We heard it was coming,” he said of the flooding. “Then we heard some rushing water and went downstairs and three o’clock is when it got real bad and [water] started shooting up through the drains.”
Peck’s son has not seen what’s left of his bedroom. The family waited for an insurance adjuster. Peck said he has no flood insurance but damage from a sewer backup may be covered.
“We have a lot of grossness in there,” he said.
Gov. Jay Nixon toured Eureka and said, “I’m from this part of the state and, quite frankly, it’s almost hard to believe. It’s almost as if you’re living on some other planet.”
Eureka is on the Meramec River, which empties into the Mississippi River. The Meramec rose a record 35 feet in the last three days.
Nixon requested a federal emergency declaration to speed debris removal and relieve the strain of recovery costs in the St. Louis region. On Saturday, President Barack Obama granted the request.
Several thousand people were forced to evacuate or suffered damage to their homes, hundreds of businesses also sustained damage and hundreds of water rescues were conducted, according to Nixon.
‘Kind of winging it’
At the house in Eureka where Tim Hodge and his family, including a newborn, moved in weeks ago, the floodwaters cascaded down a hill in the backyard. The water line in his basement reached about 6 feet. A hulking refrigerator sailed across the room.
“It’s pretty intimidating,” he said. “And with a newborn baby, you watch this water get up to where it’s inches from those electrical outlets and it’s probably time to get ready to go.”
Their new furniture was muddied and soaked. New appliances were damaged. The water heater was torn apart.
But Hodge said he was grateful for his neighbors.
“We’re kind of winging it, really,” he said. “Thank God all these neighbors have come in. We would have never been able to even do half the stuff we had without them.”
The storms and floods killed 15 people in Missouri, officials have said.
In Illinois, the death toll grew to nine with the discovery of an 18-year-old’s body, according to Christian County Coroner Amy Calvert Winans.
‘Bacteria in the river water’
On Thursday, the flooding breached a St. Louis-area wastewater treatment plant near the Meramec River — the second such breach there in a week — sending untreated waste into the river. Missouri American Water spokeswoman Ann Dettmer said the water in homes and businesses in the area still is safe to use.
“We are seeing higher levels of bacteria in the river water … but we’re managing it,” she told CNN.
Other plants are treating the river water, she said. “We are meeting state and federal standards. They don’t have to worry about their drinking water.”