The Missouri State Water Patrol had 54 officers assigned to flood duty during the recent flooding event in the southeastern part of the state and the St. Louis area. Officers were brought in from as far away as Kansas City for flood response. They were supported by six Water Patrol dispatchers working extended shifts to answer calls for service 24 hours a day. The officers utilized 27 department rescue boats to perform 324 rescues/evacuations and answered a multitude of calls for service. Officers responded to many areas both urban and rural including the cities of Poplar Bluff, Piedmont, Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Dutchtown, Allenville, Delta, Monett, Whitewater, Ellington, Van Buren, Marble Hill, Cedar Hill, Eureka, Valley Park, and Pacific. At this time six people have lost their lives due to the recent flooding in Missouri.
The Water Patrol had two boats and two trucks damaged by flood waters. All four pieces of equipment are repairable and should be back in service in a few days.
Three Water Patrol officers received minor injuries during flood duty. One officer was injured during a physical altercation with a person refusing to leave a bridge in an area that was flooding. Two other officers and the civilians they rescued were treated for hypothermia after the officers’ boat capsized during the rescue on Hurricane Creek near the city of Winona. In this situation, the officers received a call to help two teenage boys stuck in the flood waters. They diverted from their route to Cape Girardeau and responded to Hurricane Creek. Upon arriving they realized that the creek had grown into a rushing river with life threatening logs and debris flowing through the rapids. The officers managed to rescue one of the boys who was hanging naked from the trees after the rushing water had torn his clothes off. As the officers made it to the second boy, a large log flowing through the swift waters struck the bow of their boat, forcing the boat into the trees and causing it to capsize. One officer was washed downstream while the other officer put a life jacket on one of the boys and kept him from being washed downstream by hanging onto a tree (the second boy remained in a tree). One officer described the 50 degree water as feeling “like thousands of needles stabbing my body”. The officer who washed downstream used a throwable flotation device to navigate himself through the trees and swam across the turbulent water to reach shore. This officer called for help on his truck radio and returned to the scene with rope and more officers. The call for help was in vein. The Highway Patrol aircraft could not fly due to weather and the Coast Guard helicopter was still in New Orleans. Oregon County Sheriff’s Officers launched a boat to help the Water Patrol officer and boys but, their boat was also capsized by debris and at one point six people were in the flood waters. Swift water rescue teams from around the state were dispatched but personnel on the scene knew that the officers and boys were in immediate danger of hypothermia. Using two more boats and ropes, Officers of the Missouri State Water Patrol, National Park Service, first responders and civilians were able to get the six to shore. The two boys were treated at a local hospital for hypothermia and later released.
After the officers’ close call it was apparent to the State Emergency Management Agency that aircraft with the ability for air rescue was needed. The Coast Guard flew two helicopters to the area and stayed until the waters started to subside. The helicopters made several rescues in locations that were not accessible by patrol boats due to topography or debris.
Many small communities were evacuated by Water Patrol officers as flood waters continued to rise. As rivers crested, the hot spot became Highway 53 south of Poplar Bluff as agricultural levies failed. One levy failure sent water rushing across Highway 53, washing one vehicle with an elderly couple away in the flood water. Three Water Patrol boat teams were in the area and were able to reach the vehicle as it floated away. The couple was rescued and transported to a local hospital and were later released. A second levy in the same area failed a day later and sent the residents of rural Coon Island scrambling for high ground. Water Patrol officers were able to maneuver their boats through the break in the levy and believed that air evacuation would be the safest way to evacuate the stranded residents. Water Patrol officers requested Coast Guard helicopters respond to the scene and directed them to the waiting residents by radio. Everyone was evacuated safely.
As the flood waters began to subside in southeast Missouri, some officers were reassigned to the St. Louis area as the Meramac River began to rise. Officers provided security patrols in the flooded city of Pacific and helped monitor area levies that protected large communities, particularly the levy at Valley Park. Fortunately, the levies held and officers started returning to their primary duty stations around the state by the end of Easter weekend.
“I am very pleased with our officers’ response to this significant flooding event, and I am grateful for the assistance and dedication of responders from other agencies,” said Water Patrol Colonel Rad Talburt. “This was the worst flooding that many areas of southeast Missouri and northern Jefferson County had ever seen. The Water Patrol was able to provide the equipment and manpower needed to supplement local response and help Missourians in their time of need. It is a sad fact that in catastrophic events such as this flood, loss of life is inevitable and sometimes unpreventable. However, due to quick response from Water Patrol Officers with rescue boats and other emergency responders from around the state, many lives were saved.”