Widespread Flooding In Southern Missouri Leads To Emergency Declaration

Apr 30, 2017

Heavy rainfall and thunderstorms over the weekend caused record high flooding in southern Missouri, leading Governor Eric Greitens to declare a state of emergency.

About two thirds of the state was affected by flood waters, with the Missouri Department of Transportation reporting more than 700 road closures. That included parts of major highways such as a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 44 and U.S. Highway 61 near St. Louis.

"We've been through floods before; this one is fairly significant," says Paul Rydlund, surface water program manager for the U.S. Geological Survey. "On a scale of individual watersheds or drainage areas, we are certainly seeing some very significant crests and peaks that we've not seen before."

The record high water levels in creeks and rivers lead to infrastructure damage and scattered debris for many Missouri towns. Billy Pippin of Gainesville, in Ozark County near the border with Arkansas, says he always expects rainfall at this time of year, but not like this.

"I've never in my life seen water rise at the rate it rose yesterday," he says. 

Pippin says main roads are impassable and bridges have been demolished, putting life on hold in Gainesville, which was largely evacuated over the weekend.

"There's a sense of amazement that it happened to that extent here," Pippin says. "Some of the things you're used to seeing all of your life just wash away so easily. I think that's shocking to a lot of people."

Greitens dispatched the National Guard Sunday to assist in handling continued flooding. The Weather Channel forecasts more rainfall in the coming week for much of the affected area.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter and producer for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @adtudhope.