St. Louis Floodwaters Heading South

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January 4, 2016

A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew surveys the region surrounding Cape Girardeau, Mo., located on the Mississippi River just south of St. Louis, as part a joint response to the Midwest Flooding, January 3, 2016. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

By Tim Loh

(Bloomberg) — After a New Year’s wrecked by flooding and destruction, there’s good news for the people of St. Louis: The worst appears to be over.

Most of Missouri’s major roads and highways are open again and so is the 6-mile stretch of Mississippi River that the U.S. Coast Guard closed last week. The Meramec River, which climbed 35 feet (11 meters) over three days and created much of the region’s havoc, is receding.

“It’s come down almost as fast as it went up,” Mike O’Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said in an e-mail.

Heavy December rains across the Midwest created the flooding, forcing the closing of pipelines, terminals and grain elevators and killing at least 30 people, according to state emergency officials in Missouri, Illinois and Oklahoma.

The Mississippi rose to its third-highest level ever in St. Louis on Jan. 1 and notched record heights the following day in the river towns of Cape Girardeau and Thebes, Missouri, Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said on his blog.

Moving South

Now, the swollen waters are snaking south, where officials will try to manage much of the overflow with levees before it arrives in Baton Rouge and New Orleans about Jan. 19, said Jeff Graschel, a hydrologist at the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, an arm of the National Weather Service, in Slidell, Louisiana.

On Monday, regions south of St. Louis were pivoting out of emergency mode. The National Guard left St. Genevieve County on Saturday and is scheduled to depart nearby Perry County later today, O’Connell said. The Missouri Transportation Department is preparing to open the Chester Bridge into Illinois as soon as Monday evening after an inspection and evaluation, he said.

The closure of the Illinois River was expanded to 110 miles from 80 miles, encompassing the section from Hardin, Illinois, to Beardstown, Illinois, the Coast Guard said in an online statement.

Cairo Crest

The Mississippi River was cresting near Cairo, Illinois, on Monday, reaching 56 feet, a record for this time of year but below the all-time mark of 61.7 feet set in 2011, Graschel said. That was below estimates for that part of the river from last week, which could be good news for cities downstream, he said.

“As we go south from Cairo, the levee system can contain lots of the flow,” he said. “Any businesses and farming inside the levee systems will be impacted.”

Kinder Morgan Inc. kept shut its Cahokia terminal in Sauget, Illinois, and its Cora terminal in Rockwood, Illinois, company spokesman Richard Wheatley said by e-mail. Cahokia handles chemicals, coal, cement and metals while Cora handles coal and petcoke, according to the company’s website.

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Memphis products terminal also remains closed, spokesman Todd Spitler said in e-mail. “We will restart the facility as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said.

Steve Lee, a spokesman for refiner Valero Energy Corp., didn’t respond to e-mail seeking comment on the status of its Memphis refinery along the Mississippi River. Valero also has a dock on the river.

Enbridge Inc.’s Ozark pipeline remains shut, as it has been since Dec. 30. The pipeline crosses the Mississippi River. Water levels at the crossing were receding but still very high, spokesman Michael Barnes said in a phone interview. He estimates it will be several days before inspection teams are able to check if it’s safe to restart the pipeline.

–With assistance from Barbara Powell and Megan Durisin.

©2016 Bloomberg News

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