Desperate Midwest braces for more relentless rain

July 22, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

ST. LOUIS -- Volunteers, municipal crews and National Guard troops in St. Louis and towns all along the Mississippi River worked furiously yesterday to fortify levees as authorities warned that more rain and probable flooding were on the way.

"We have a very, very critical situation here," said Julian Boyd, director of public safety in St. Louis. "We have crews working around the clock on deteriorating levees."

Hundreds of residents living in homes surrounded by flood water in the hardest-hit south end of town were urged by health officials to boil their drinking water as city workers drained overflowing sewer lines into the brimming River Des Peres, along the southern city limits.

About 1,500 homes were without electricity, and several hundred others were without water. Underground mains continued to burst and buckle the streets. Flood victims lined up outside a federal relief station, where more than 700 families have sought housing, unemployment assistance and other aid.

The Mississippi River, compassionate as a cobra, dropped by about an inch at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis -- but nobody trusted it. It had crested overnight at a record 47.1 feet from the river bottom. More rain fell during the day, and experts said the additional rain could push it up again and overwhelm more levees.

The flood kept killing. Its toll climbed to 33. The victims included a 9-year-old boy in Minnesota who died when he fell off a raft and an 86-year-old man in Missouri who drowned in 4 feet of water near his pickup truck. The homeless numbered nearly 40,000. Damage estimates topped $10 billion.

"More flooding is likely," said Marty McKewon, a meteorologist at WeatherData Inc., a private forecasting service. "Rain will once again concentrate in the Mississippi Valley. Heavy rains are likely from south of St. Louis to Minnesota. . . . We see no break in the weather pattern."

In Des Moines, Iowa, officials blamed leaky pipes for another delay in water service. The city went dry after flooding swamped its water plant 11 days ago. Then, against orders, some people opened their faucets too soon. They depressurized the system and delayed the water flow.

The city manager had hoped to restore service yesterday. But 30 million gallons disappeared overnight. At first officials suspected more water poachers. Finally, however, they found a hole in a pipe under the Des Moines River. Water was expected to start flowing today.

In St. Louis, volunteers ran out of sandbags, forcing street crews to scavenge toppled bags from a mile-long stretch of the Des Peres that authorities conceded they no longer could defend. Maintenance crews at the airport were summoned to bag sand normally reserved for emergency runway use.

"We are not standing down at all," said city Fire Chief Neil J. Svetanics.

Residents of 160 homes that were flooded when levees broke along the Des Peres late Tuesday returned for essentials and valuables yesterday. Some came by boat. Others walked through waist-deep water in rubber waders.

Three bridges in south St. Louis remained closed, as did many residential streets. Police expected the arrival of 20 additional National Guard troops to patrol evacuated neighborhoods, where 60 troops already patrolled alongside 60 police officers.

Police reported no looting, but fears remained high among residents.

Some refused to leave their homes and formed groups to guard their streets.

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