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All-time record-breaking rainfall brings flash flooding to St. Louis

Updated at 4:35 p.m., July 26.

Thousands of people lost power Tuesday morning and at least one person died after downpours in St. Louis broke the record for the most rainfall ever recorded in a single day in the city.

First responders pulled the person who died out of a submerged vehicle near Skinker Boulevard and Enright Avenue at 10:30 a.m., St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said.

As St. Louis residents woke up to flash flood warnings, the National Weather Service in St. Louis reported the region had seen 8.06 inches by 7 a.m. In just five hours, the rainfall surpassed the previous daily rainfall record of 6.85 inches set in 1915. By 11 a.m., nearly 9 inches had fallen. St. Louis received more rainfall in six hours than it normally receives in the months of July and August combined.

“So, pretty incredible, the amount of rain that we've had,” said Jim Sieveking, science and operations officer at the St. Louis weather service office.

Officials are warning of dangerous flash flooding and say residents should avoid driving through water. Cars can be swept off the road even in what may appear to be shallow water, so people who have to drive should take caution.

“Never drive into flood waters — that's the biggest thing we preach is, ‘Turn Around Don't Drown,’” Sieveking said. “Most of the fatalities that occur during flash flooding are people driving into floodwaters. So we encourage people to just stay at home, wait until the water recedes.”

First responders in the city were involved in about 70 different rescues or assists, said St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis M. Jenkerson.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of cars that have been door-deep and even roof-deep in some of these low-lying areas,” Jenkerson said.

Budda Poutthasith and his mother were driving on Forest Park Boulevard around 5:20 a.m. when their car was submerged in water.

“I just heard a big woosh and waves, and next thing you know, I'm in three or four feet of water,” Poutthasith told St. Louis Public Radio.

Poutthasith and his mother made it out of the car safely, but he said they had just recently paid the car off. They hope insurance will cover the damage.

There are ongoing flash flood warnings throughout the region, in both Missouri and Illinois. A warning is in effect until at least 11:45 a.m. for St. Louis, Chesterfield and University City, Mo. and there was one until at least 10:45 a.m. for Belleville, Granite City and O’Fallon, Il. An updated map of flash flood warnings is available here.

St. Louis County and St. Louis city officials opened a shelter at the Richmond Heights Community Center for people displaced by flooding.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe declared states of emergencies to make it easier for affected communities to access state assistance. Page said that’s important because the weather forecast calls for the region to receive more rain.

“We know that this is going to get worse before it gets better,” Page said. “It’s supposed to rain all week.”

In the Metro East, the former municipality of Centreville has been experiencing backed up sewer and stormwater systems for decades — a problem that leads to raw sewage and flooding in residents’ yards. This happens almost every time there is heavy rain in the predominantly Black and low-income community, said Yvette Lyles, whose home regularly floods. She was distraught on Tuesday morning describing the effect of this historic storm.

“Every time this happens, my home is engulfed and we have to go through all this massive cleaning out and throwing away stuff over and over,” Lyles said. “I'm tired, baby.”

A thick layer of sludge lines Earlie Fuse’s basement on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, in Cahokia Heights. Infrastructure issues in the former city of Centreville have caused countless homes sewer lines to back up and flood. In Fuse’s case, the water has caused his home’s foundation to crack and multiple basement walls to crumble.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
A thick layer of sludge lines Earlie Fuse’s basement last October in Cahokia Heights. Infrastructure issues in the former city of Centreville have caused countless homes sewer lines to back-up and flood. In Fuse’s case, the water has caused his home’s foundation to crack and multiple basement walls to crumble.

Lyles said she can smell human waste in the water. She said has tried to use plastic and sandbags to stop the regular inundations but it doesn’t work.

“I can’t tell you how much furniture I’ve had to throw away and rebuy. I’m tired of doing all this, I really am,” Lyles said. “If I could pick my house up and move it somewhere else, I would, but I can’t afford to do that.”

Centreville has applied for grants from multiple agencies, receiving some funds in 2021 to fix the sewage problem. The community has support from Illinois Sens.Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, but Lyles said the issue persists. Multiple lawsuits have been filed over this ongoing issue, seeking new sewer lines and pump stations, and financial compensation for residents like Lyles whose properties have been damaged repeatedly by this problem.

Last week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a drought alert for dozens of counties in the state. Meteorologists say because the heavy rain was so concentrated in the metro region many of those counties are still dealing with severe drought.

There are multiple closures across the St. Louis region due to the flooding. The Gateway Arch is closed Tuesday, the University of Missouri-St. Louis canceled in-person classes, St. Louis Community College Forest Park canceled all classes and activities and the Fort Zumwalt School District canceled summer programming for the day.

The Metro system is reporting delays of up to two hours due to flooding.

St. Louis Public Radio is collecting photos and reports of the record-breaking rainfall via email at social@stlpublicradio.org.

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.
Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.
Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Brian Munoz is the interim Digital Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.