At least one person was killed Tuesday as record-high precipitation was soaking St. Louis, leading to what the National Weather Service called "life-threatening" flash flooding. Authorities said they were carrying out multiple rescues — and photos showed cars almost entirely submerged in the water.
Public safety officials discovered the body inside a vehicle that was underwater at an intersection, St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Officials had been called to the scene because the car was submerged and found the person when floodwater began to recede around 10 a.m., Jenkerson said.
The incident has been classified as a "sudden death" pending further investigation, the St. Louis Police Department said in a statement, and the medical examiner's office will ultimately determine the cause. The person has not been named.
Massive thunderstorms that hit St. Louis overnight prompted a "historic rainfall event," per the National Weather Service, which in turn caused "widespread flash flooding" throughout Tuesday morning. As of 7 a.m. local time, the city had shattered its daily rainfall record, reporting 8.06 inches of rain in just seven hours, the Weather Service said. The previous record, set in August 1915 after the Galveston hurricane, was 6.85 inches.
The rainfall led the National Weather Service to declared a flash flood emergency for St. Louis early Tuesday morning — which, per the Weather Service, describes the "EXCEEDINGLY RARE situations when extremely heavy rain is leading to a severe threat to human life and CATASTROPHIC DAMAGE from a flash flood is happening or will happen soon."
"Typically, emergency official[s] are reporting LIFE THREATENING water rises resulting in water rescues/evacuations," the service added.
St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page said Tuesday afternoon that flooding had closed county parks and roads, cut off power at intersections and damaged at least one bridge, which is now closed due to erosion. During the press conference, local officials cautioned that although water levels receded throughout the day Tuesday, additional rain is forecasted for the evening, which means conditions could worsen again.
Photos shared on social media early Tuesday showed police retrieving a driver from their car around 5:30 a.m., when police said heavy downpours trapped the vehicle on a flooded roadway. The photos showed the water has risen so much that the car's tires were submerged.
The St. Louis Fire Department said some vehicles were "fully submerged" and that rescue boats had been deployed.
The flash flood emergency remained in effect for hours. During that time, the Weather Service warned residents to avoid driving through flooded roadways. At the time, the water had already partially submerged roadways and residential areas, leading to interstate highway closures and rescue efforts by local law enforcement.
The flash flood emergency was later downgraded to a flash flood warning, which expired at 11:45 a.m. local time. St. Louis Deputy Public Safety Director Heather Taylor said at the Tuesday press conference that it appears "the worst is behind us."
The Weather Service emphasized most flood deaths occur in vehicles. "Please turn around, don't drown!" the agency tweeted, reiterating the slogan used to remind people of the dangers of moving through a flooded area where it's hard to tell how deep the water is.
Gov. Mike Parson echoed that in his own statement on the flooding, writing, "We urge Missourians to continue to follow the safety messaging of local authorities and avoid travel in flooded areas until floodwaters recede. Never attempt to drive in floodwater."
Residential properties were also impacted. One video, recorded by a resident and shared on Twitter by a reporter with CBS affiliate KMOV, showed the person's backyard completely inundated with water. A fence and tree trunks appeared to be partially submerged.
The St. Louis Fire Department said it had responded to 18 homes with "substantial flooding/trapped occupants."
The agency warned that isolated thunderstorms in southeast Missouri and southwest Illinois "may become strong to severe" in the mid-afternoon or evening, with "damaging winds" posing the greatest threats as well as possible hail. The region could also see additional, and potentially severe, thunderstorms later this week.
Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe — acting on behalf of the governor, who is on an international trip promoting trade — declared a state of emergency, the Associated Press reported.
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