St. Louis Flooding: How to Drive Safely After Heavy Rain

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Flash flooding in southwestern IL

More than 12 inches of rain fell overnight on July 25 in some areas of the St. Louis and southwestern Illinois regions, with the National Weather Service in St. Louis reporting “life-threatening flash flooding” in some communities.

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Belleville and several other eastern metro areas saw more than 6 inches of rain from Monday night through Tuesday morning, according to the St. Louis National Weather Service.

Many towns in southwestern Illinois and the St. Louis area experienced flooding from the rain.

“This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order,” read an emergency alert from the National Weather Service for the greater St. Louis area, sent around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. .

The Belleville area received more than 6 inches of rain through Tuesday around 7 a.m., according to NWS St. Louis estimates.

Rainfall of 6 inches or more reaches the bottom of most passenger cars and can cause loss of control and stagnationaccording to the NWS.

The News-Democrat spoke with Mark Fuchs, a senior service hydrologist at the NWS St. Louis, about how people can maximize safety while driving in flooded areas.

This is what you should know.

Driving in heavy rain and flooding

Motorists should never drive through flooded roads, the NWS guidelines say.

“If you see water on a road, covering a road, you don’t know how deep the water is,” Fuchs said. “We strongly advise you to turn around, don’t drown. Because the water can be only a few inches deep, no problem, or it can be several feet deep, the bridge could be gone.”

Even drivers with large trucks are not exempt from flooding concerns.

“The size of the truck doesn’t matter, many times. Especially if there is no pavement to drive on and you think there is,” Fuchs said.

Roads are closed for a reason, Fuchs said, and it’s important to heed traffic warnings.

“If there are barricades out there, pay absolute attention to them,” Fuchs said.

Drivers should be especially careful when driving through areas that have seen heavy rain overnight, Fuchs said. Reduced visibility can cause a motorist to unknowingly enter a flooded area.

NWS safety tips also say to seek higher ground when possible and not to camp or park your vehicle near streams or streams.

What to do if your car gets stuck in a flood

If floodwaters surround your car, you should leave the vehicle and move to higher ground if you can do so safely, the NWS guidelines say. You and your vehicle can be swept away quickly, particularly in high water.

You you must not get out of your car to enter moving wateraccording to The Ready Campaign, which focuses on public service around natural and man-made disasters.

The car site cars.com provides this list of tips for when you’re stuck in your car in rapidly rising water.

Do:

  • Keep calm.
  • Turn on your headlights and hazard lights.
  • Unbuckle your seat belt.
  • Open your doors.
  • Take off jackets or outer clothing.
  • Roll your window down slowly. Most power windows will work unless your car is completely submerged.
  • If you can roll down the windows, get out, get to higher ground, and call 911.
  • If the windows don’t open, you’ll have to use a door to get out. But you won’t be able to open a door until the water pressure equalizes between the outside and inside of your car. This means that you will have to wait for the water to enter the car and fill to about the level of your neck.

  • Once the doors are open, swim to safety and call 911.

Cars.com also offers several tips on what to avoid doing when you’re stuck in your car in floods:

  • Do not panic.
  • Don’t use your energy trying to open the doors, because the pressure of the water will prevent them from moving (wait for the pressure to equalize).
  • Don’t try to save any possessions.
  • Don’t try to break the windows to get out. If the water pressure is not equalized, the glass will explode towards you or other occupants.
  • Once outside, do not stay with your car. Get to high ground.
  • Don’t stand on the roof of your car. If your car is towed, you will be carried away by it. You could also fall down and be injured if the car shifts abruptly.
  • Do not return to your car if you think the water level is going down. Water levels could rise without warning. Allow emergency personnel to tow your vehicle to a safe location.

More information on flood safety, including what to do if floodwater enters your homeis available online on the NWS.

This story was originally published July 26, 2022 12:47 p.m.

Profile picture of Meredith Howard

Meredith Howard is a service reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat. She is a graduate of Baylor University and previously freelanced at the Illinois Times and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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