After the flood Mississippi River

The challenging process of cleaning up and assessing damage begins after near-record high flooding swamps the region

By Brett Auten

Now that the Mississippi River has ceased its hemorrhaging, the journey back to a smidgen of normalcy begins.

Over the weekend, the Mississippi River crested in St. Charles at over 35-feet, almost 11-feet above flood stage. Last week, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann declared that a state of emergency exists in the county as a result of on-going, severe weather and serious flooding which began on April 29. The rain has caused severe flooding in the areas of Portage des Sioux, West Alton, and Orchard Farm.

Now that the river has started to recede this week, clean-up and damage assessments are underway. That is when things will really hit home for residents.

“The real impact will come when they see what the water has done to their home or property,” Captain Chris Hunt, the Director of St. Charles County Regional Emergency Management, said. “Most of these residents have lived here a long time and they know what they’re up against.”

The state has reached its monetary threshold and will now look to federal disaster assistance. Once local officials collect the initial damage estimates, the state will request a Joint Preliminary Damage Assessments from FEMA Regional Office. The governor will submit a disaster declaration request to the president through the FEMA Regional Office. FEMA will review the requests and will send the recommendation to the president, who will make the final decision.

“It is a multi-week process. It’s almost like, did they forget about us?’” Hunt said. “We are urging residents to start filing (insurance) claims and if they can get back to their homes, start the clean-up process. There is a lot of debris that gets brought in due to these floods. We will assist by bringing in dumpsters and having facilities available to take the debris.”

Jared Agee is the Division Director of Building and Code Enforcement at St. Charles County. He and his team will be going to different properties to see if it is safe to occupy and to survey just how bad the damage is.

“There are fuel and gas lines that need to be serviced,” Agee said. “There are electrical hazards with the ground being wet and being a conductor. We will be looking for foundation scouring, pavement delamination. In some areas, if the water recedes quickly, it can take the soil with it. There will be debris everywhere and (residents) need to be careful about getting cut.

“It’s going to be a challenging process,” Agee continues. “The good thing is, we’ve been through this before. We know what we’re doing and we already have plans in action which will make the whole process much easier. The biggest issue will be getting these lives put back together. Some are used to the river flooding and will bounce back and be ready. For others, we will be working in a more one-on-one environment.”

Another major obstacle is making sure residents get the right information.

“We want these residents to stay engaged on social media,” Hunt said. “They should follow and listen to their local fire and county officials. The information that they put out is the most accurate. Don’t follow the rumor mill.”

The St. Charles County Police Department and St. Charles County Regional Emergency Management have provided emergency response to residents. On June 1, St. Charles County Police restricted access to Portage des Sioux, West Alton and Orchard Farm. Those areas were under a voluntary evacuation order due to flooding. St. Charles County police were implementing watercraft Monday afternoon in an effort to keep flood victims and their property safe. Officers were assigned to 12-hour shifts to provide extra patrol in flood-impacted areas and anyone found attempting unauthorized access to vacated residences and businesses were taken into custody.

Also last week, a levee breach was reported by the St. Charles County Emergency Operations Center. It was on the Missouri River side of the CNC levee on the section east of Highway 67.

Among the St. Charles County Parks closures (as of press time) include: Bangert Island, Hideaway Harbor, Klondike Park Boat Ramp, and Riverside Landing. The St. Charles County Smartt Field Airport is closed until further notice due to flooding. Several planes were seen parked on the runway as the hangars were deemed a risk.

Several neighborhoods and subdivisions, most notably the Deerfield Village mobile home park, have already been impacted by the flood.

This year’s flood has reminded some of the flood of 1993, but according to Hunt, it doesn’t compare. Though the official numbers will not be available until the end of the month, as of last week, an estimated 2,000 structures have been hit by the flood waters.

“This is not near the amount of properties and houses affected by the flood,” he said, “and the financial significance isn’t even close.”

The Great Mississippi and Missouri Rivers Flood of 1993  was among the most costly and devastating to ever occur in the United States, with $15 billion in damages (Approx. $26 billion in 2018 dollars). The flooded area totaled around 30,000 square miles and was the worst such U.S. disaster since the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Some locations on the Mississippi River flooded for almost 200 days, while various regions by Missouri neared 100 days of flooding.

The Red Cross opened a new shelter in St. Charles at Saint John United Church of Christ located at 405 S. 5th St. in St. Charles. Trinity Lutheran Church in Orchard Farm is hosting a post-flood relief clean-up drive. Visit their Facebook page for items requested and more information.

If you – or someone you know – is in need of flood recovery help, please call United Way of Greater St. Louis 2-1-1 (or 800-427-4626) or American Red Cross of Missouri (314-516-2700).

“There is a lot of work that needs to go on and for those who want to volunteer, please go through the proper channels,” Agee said. “Don’t just show up to a flood plain looking to help. It is hard enough to get rescue vehicles where it needs to be so we don’t need sightseers causing additional traffic congestion.”

CUTLINE: Photos courtesy St. Charles County These aerial photos show the extent of the flooding throughout St. Charles County.