Four to 8 inches of heavy rain that fell in some places Tuesday and Tuesday night have led to new records set for flash flooding in Phelps County.
According to the National Weather Service Springfield, Mo., office, Phelps, Pulaski, Dent, Maries and Miller counties received the worst of the storms, which caused several roads to be submerged underwater, including both eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 44 at the 173 mile marker, just east of the Jerome exit due to Gasconade River flooding.
MoDOT estimated that the river was raising 1 inch every 10 minutes on the interstate.
Chris Engelbrecht, safety and health manager with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), said he believes the section of interstate was closed around 7 a.m. or 7:15 a.m. Wednesday.
“I haven’t personally seen is this high before, but we have had water over I-44 before,” he said.
The roughly one-half mile section of interstate was covered by at least 2 feet of water.
On the east side of the closure, interstate traffic was diverted off at exit 186 in Rolla onto U.S. Highway 63 south to Cabool and then west on U.S. Highway 60 to Springfield. The detour is in effect until further notice.
Because of the detour, traffic was backed up for miles east of the Rolla on I-44. MoDOT officials are urging motor carriers and other travelers to exit the interstate at their earliest, convenient alternate route.
Engelbrecht said the last time the section of interstate was closed near Jerome, it took about six to eight hours to recede. “But it hasn’t been like this,” he said of the current conditions.
When the water recedes, MoDOT will inspect pavement and bridges for safety before opening highways for public use.
According to the National Weather Service about 10 inches of rain fell between Aug. 2 and Aug. 7 in south central Missouri.
At Arlington, across the river from Jerome, the Gasconade River had reached the bottom of the bridge deck on Route D and was splashing onto the tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad bridge.
In their seven years of living in Arlington, Leo and Rachael Clark have seen their fair share of flooding, but they have never seen their backyard like they did Wednesday morning.
"Do you like our lake front property?" Rachael said with a smile.
With all joking aside, the two were very concerned about the nearby train trestle being swept away and a wall of water rushing into their already swollen backyard.
"The train bridge is blocking about 6 feet of water," Leo noted. "If that gets washed away, I am afraid we will have a tsunami effect with water rushing in."
Page 2 of 2 - Water was visibly lapping up against the old Arlington train depot and was creeping closer to Bob and Bev Bretsch's foster home for boys.
Rachael worried about the water getting into their basement for the first time. “We’ve never experienced this much,” she said. She estimated the water was rising at a rate of about one-half to a foot of water per hour.
To prepare the flood, Tuesday, she harvested vegetables being grown in a community garden, but she said there is also a lot of watching and waiting. Their home also lost power Tuesday night.
The Gasconade River at Jerome has already exceeded flooding records set in 1982 and 2008. The river was recorded as reaching 31.81 feet Wednesday at 1:15 p.m. That is more than twice the flood stage, which is 15 feet.
The previous record high was 31.34 feet set on Dec. 5, 1982. On March 20, 2008, the river level at Jerome reached 30.43 feet.
Doolittle, surrounding areas
At the Cooking From Scratch restaurant at the I-44 Doolittle exit, the parking lot was full of 18-wheelers when waitress Chantel Smith arrived for work Wednesday morning.
"They (truckers traveling on I-44) were lined up and ready to eat," said Smith, "when we opened the doors at 10:30."
On Route C between County Road 8260 and County Road 8280, northwest of Doolittle, creeks washed out one bridge and part of another. MoDOT crews expected to fill in the bridges with gravel Wednesday.
Other road closures in Phelps County as of 3:45 p.m. Wednesday were Route J north of Route M and Route P between Route T and Route J, according to MoDOT.
Flooding also closed U.S. Highway 63 in both directions, south of Vienna in Maries County.
If traveling southbound on Highway 63, motorists should take Route 50 to Route 28 at Rosebud then return to Highway 63 near Vichy.
If traveling northbound on Highway 63, the detour is Route 28 through Owensville to Route 50 in Rosebud and back to Highway 63.
Laura Johnson, supervisor with the Phelps County Sheriff's Department, said a 12-foot section of a county road washed away Wednesday morning. No injuries were reported.
"We have a lot of roads shut down now," Johnson said. The rain had stopped Wednesday morning in several areas, including Newburg, and water had begun receding in some flooded sections, she said.
More rain and moderate to major flooding is in the forecast through the weekend.