Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Rising Waters Turn Flood Victims into Advocates

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Rising Waters Turn Flood Victims into Advocates

Article excerpt

Emilie Hayes fights back the tears.

She is standing outside the wall of sandbags that failed to prevent a tributary of the Meramec River from gushing into her family's home in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, destroying nearly everything they own. The sandbag wall is 6 bags deep in some places. The top level bags are white. The lower level is a weathered brown after years of use. Those are the bags the couple usually keeps between Tributary B and their home to protect it during regular flash flooding.

"It makes me so sad to look at this," she says of her home on Weber Hill. It was built in 1957, the same year Sunset Hills became a city. A lot has changed since then.

"We don't know when we'll be back," she says.

Her husband, Steve, interjects: "If ever."

Their tale is one of countless others like it. The record flood that spanned the New Year's holiday period destroyed about 7,100 buildings across the St. Louis region. Some like the Hayes family have flood insurance and can at least recoup some costs. Others are mostly out of luck. Either way, the unprecedented height of the water, especially in places that had never experienced major flooding in 1993 or 1982, for instance, has a lot of people wanting answers.

Emilie Hayes is one of them. She takes notes in her omnipresent notebook, educating herself on floodplains, rivers, Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps and any morsel of information she can get her hands on. She contacted me after reading the comments of Washington University professor Bob Criss in my New Year's Day column.

Criss is one of a handful of river experts who have been trying to rally politicians and residents in the Midwest for years to wake up to the fact that the combination of climate change and manmade changes to river basins and watersheds are increasing the likelihood that floods will be more frequent and more devastating, with water coming faster and rising higher.

Emilie looks up the hill and points to an area near Gravois Road with 30 or so newer homes. She describes the rebuilding of Weber Hill Road that directed more water through drainage systems into Tributary B. …

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