Shown above is both Old Highway 79 and New Highway 79. Due to flash flooding many roads are quickly becoming un-passable and emergency crews are advising to avoid areas such as this during their travels. Although New Highway 79 remains open, there is a possibility upcoming storms could send the water levels well above crest. These photos were taken on Monday, May 3. As of Tuesday, May 4, the water on New Highway 79 receded, but still remains a concerning issue.
It would seem as though Mother Nature might have a small grudge as reoccurring severe weather has left many picking through rubble or without power and asking thousands of questions. However, with rising waters and flash flooding, even more are wondering when the beatings are going to end.
“[The weather] has definitely been a shift compared to last year,” said Mike Peterson, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers chief of public affairs – St. Louis District. “We were dealing with a low river and now we’re dealing with a high river, which is causing a lot of turmoil throughout the state.”
According to Peterson, the original forecast only called for a possible one to 1.5 inches of water. However, it became a much different number as the state has already seen approximately eight inches of rain in just a short period.
“Luckily we already had some folks in place, restocked our flood lining supplies following the last flood in April,” explained Peterson. “Basically we were prepared for another event, which allowed us to mobilize quickly and get out there and formulate a plan.”
With the last few storms producing so much rain and havoc, the situation would definitely appear to be getting worse, as floodwaters have already claimed a few lives.
“The problems we are seeing are people who think they have enough vehicle ground clearance trying to drive the flooded roads or people wanting to go sight seeing the flooded areas and it’s just not a safe thing to do right now,” said Peterson. “It only takes a few inches of water to move a vehicle. With enough force, the water can easily sweep a car off the road or a sightseer away.”
Peterson went on to explain how the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers have two main areas of focus; what’s happening on the river with navigation and what is going on off the river with flood risk management.
“On the river we’ve had to shut down a couple of our navigation locks from the upper Mississippi, similar to further up stream like in the Rock Island District, there are couple locks and dams closed, plus it looks like the National Coast Guard will be shutting down St. Louis Harbor, which will have an effect on commerce.”
Peterson went on to explain that what they do by shutting down the various locks, protects the equipment and allows them to reopen the areas fairly fast. In fact, they have been able to leave most of their preparations in place from the last flood.
“We were actually able to shut down Lock 24 in about six-hours this time,” said Peterson. “We’ve put those preparations in place, looked long range at the forecast and decided to stay on our toes and that has served us well thus far.”
Off the river, looking at flood risk management, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has flood flight teams all along their entire section of the Mississippi River, as well as the Missouri River. These teams consist of engineers, geotechnical professionals and project mangers, all of whom are walking the various leaves with local residents assisting in technical expertise and providing supplies such as sand bags, plastic sheeting and pumps.
“Right now the forecast we are looking at on the upper river, around the Louisiana area, is we have more rain coming. Currently the water levels are at approximately 22.5 feet and by the looks of it, we will see that number go up and down over the next few days,” explained Peterson. “Our main focus though is public safety. We want to make sure we can protect populated areas, like Winfield, Foley Clarksville and all the communities being affected by these floods. We are making sure we’re working with local emergency response crews and making sure they’re informed.”
Old Hwy. 79, looking north. Water is expected to reach 22.6 feet before receding.
The main thing, according to Peterson and what they have been advising everyone to do, is to stay up to date on what is going on in their area. One resource designed for that exact purpose is the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers website, http:// mvs.usace.army.mil. People can also contact their local agencies, such as local law enforcement, fire fighters or EMS and get local information as well.
“As these storms continue things are predictably going to get worse before they get better,” said Peterson. “All this rain fall is going to further create more flash flooding, which can be dangerous for everyone.”
However, it’s not just the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers taking the reins. MoDOT is also looking ahead and doing their part to ensure safe travel and roads for commuters. Erik Maninga, P.E. area engineer of MoDOT – Northeast District, explained they are trying to handle the erosion problems the rain is causing to the roadways.
“We are continuously monitoring what’s going on,” said Maninga. “Our maintenance guys are out there as the water approaches on HWY. 79 to make sure if the water does go over we can get the barricades up and better protect the public and our roads.”
Maninga said residents seeking more information on flooding or closed roads could visit http://modot.org. That site will give people the most up to date information on road closures.
“If folks are wondering on conditions or if this road or that road is closed, they can go there and see what areas are safe and what areas to avoid,” said Maninga. “This is the best avenue to take a look at all that. I know right now our guys are working on the shoulders on HWY. 79 because of all the erosion.”
Currently the highway a remains open and according to Maninga, MoDOT is going to do everything they can to keep it that way. Even the Missouri State Highway Patrol is sending out warnings and suggestions on how to be safe during these times. Colonel Ron Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, sent out a public release on Monday, June 3 reminding the public flooding roads and flash flooding is nothing to take lightly.
“For their safety and that of their passengers, drivers are reminded to stay alert while driving in areas known to flood. Barricades closing a roadway are there to protect you,” stated Replogle. “Drivers must respect barriers or barricades put in place by MoDOT — it is extremely dangerous and a violation of state law to drive around them.”
A few of the reminders Replogle mentioned were never drive through fast-moving waters; even a small amount of fast moving water can sweep a slow-moving vehicle off the roadway. If a person’s vehicle becomes stuck in rising water, get out quickly and move to higher ground.
The Patrol also asks boaters across the state to take extra precautions when boating in flooded areas; the large amounts of rainfall over the last week have caused rivers and lakes to become swollen.
“Many times the right decision is to stay off the water,” explained Replogle. “In areas where lakes or rivers have spilled over the banks, erosion and damage can occur to flooded structures, docks, or water laden levees by boat wakes.”
Boaters should avoid operating in these areas. If operation in these areas is necessary boaters should operate at idle speed so as not to cause a wake.
Flooded rivers and streams with moving currents present some of the most dangerous situations a boater can encounter. Fast moving water can easily capsize or flip a boat, especially when combined with fixed objects such as trees and buildings. Boaters should avoid any operations in these swift flowing waters.
“The Patrol encourages motorists and watercraft operators to protect themselves by making sure everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained in a seat belt or child restraint and everyone in the vessel is wearing an approved life jacket,” stated Replogle. “Be safe.”
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