City prepares for 46-foot river level on Thursday

ST. LOUIS – Helped by giant-sized sandbags, city crews have been busy working to ensure that the expected 46-foot crest on the Mississippi River stays out of houses.

Todd Waelterman, executive director of operations for Mayor Lyda Krewson, was optimistic on Friday that that would happen when the water reached its high point on Wednesday and Thursday.

Waelterman said city workers had successfully closed all gates on the 11-mile system of gates, concrete walls and levees from Riverview Boulevard south to Potomac Street. The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is doing its part by pumping water into the Mississippi.

“There’s a significant amount of pumps that MSD manages,” Waelterman said.

The Mississippi River water level at St. Louis was at 44.18 feet on Monday and was projected to reach 46 feet on Thursday before it falls below 40 feet on June 14. The record high flood level was 49.58 feet on August 1, 1993.

Rain might affect the water level. For almost all of the rest of the week, the National Weather Service says there is a 60 percent or more chance of thunderstorms.

Waelterman also said city workers placed about 2,500 feet of sandbags along the River des Peres on Thursday and planned to place about the same amount on Friday. “By late afternoon Saturday, we should have all the bags in place,” he said.

These aren’t the old kinds of bags, which volunteers once filled with 30 or 35 pounds of sand and then dropped on top of other bags. These are three feet tall, lined up along a levee.  A large loader fills each with about 2,200 pounds of material, plenty to hold the water back.

About 50 to 60 workers are putting in about 12 hours a day on the River des Peres, Waelterman said on Friday.

After the work is done, “By no means are we walking away,” Waelterman said. “We will be watching both systems 24/7.”

Those who live close to the River des Peres said they were confident the water wouldn’t come near their houses. But that doesn’t mean they are free from problems.

“We’re watching, crossing fingers,” said Bruce Mayhew, who lives near the corner of Sharp Avenue and Germania Street. Nearby, cars on Germania were diverted onto Sharp to allow city crews to the southwest to do sandbagging along Germania.

On May 23, Mayhew got an unwelcome surprise.

“Last week, when the pump got hit by lightning, we were, like, full of water in our basements. MSD’s taken care of it so far,” Mayhew said. “They’re pulling out mostly what was damaged.”

MSD spokesman Sean Hadley said the basements of about 150 houses around Germania and Louis Street were filled with water on May 23 after lighting struck a pump station. MSD helped with cleanup and recovery and covered all costs.

MSD also covered up to $3,000 in costs from basement sewer backups of an additional 200 or so homes the same day throughout the St. Louis area, Hadley said.

Hadley emphasized that MSD doesn’t cover losses from flooding on the ground.

MSD has staffed 28 pumping stations around the clock since the end of March. When the river reached 38 feet, MSD started plugging manholes and doing temporary pumping on the River des Peres, Hadley said.

“We’ve been working with the city,” Hadley said.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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