National Guard dispatched as storm swamps eastern Missouri

UNION, Mo. - Flash floods washed out roads, inundated homes and killed at least two people early Sunday after more than a foot of rain swamped east-central Missouri.

The National Guard was sent to help with rescues and cleanup in hard-hit Franklin County, west of St. Louis, and Jefferson County, south of the city.

The floods were caused by a storm system that arrived late Saturday after lumbering northeastward from Oklahoma, where hundreds of families were evacuated earlier that day. The same slow-moving system had been blamed for thunderstorms in the southern Plains and western Gulf Coast states for much of last week.

So much rain fell so fast that many in Union, in southern Franklin County, were unaware they were in peril until tornado sirens sounded about 1 a.m. Sunday. In a neighborhood near Flat Creek, normally just a small stream, people opened their doors to see white-capped water rushing past.

Rhonda Gipson and her 31-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, grabbed their small dog and tried to run to higher ground. Gipson was washed over a 3-foot-high chainlink fence and screamed for help in the darkness, gripping the dog with one arm and her son's hand with the other. Firefighters rescued them two hours later.

''The water was moving so quickly, it pushed me into the fence, but that was a good thing because it gave me something to hold onto,'' Gipson said.

Fourteen inches of rain fell during the night at St. Clair as the storm stalled over Franklin County for about six hours, repeatedly redeveloping and ''hitting the same area over and over and over again'' before dissipating, said meteorologist Thomas Spriggs of the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

Hundreds of people were evacuated through the night as creeks quickly rose out of their banks, floating cars, mobile homes and propane tanks, sheriff's Capt. Don Jones said.

Connie Barnes, 19, of St. Clair, died Sunday morning several hours after the car she was in overturned in water on a washed-out road, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said. Six other people in the car were injured.

Another person was killed, apparently when a vehicle was caught by a flash flood near Robertsville, Sheriff Gary Toelke said. Flooding also was blamed for the death of a motorist in Oklahoma.

Flooding also occurred at Washington, along the Missouri River. Shelters were opened in churches and public buildings, but authorities said many people went to stay with relatives.

At Washington, high water along small tributaries of the Missouri River inundated a half-dozen business in a low-lying industrial park just west of downtown.

At the Canam Steel plant, all that showed above the water of five parked tractor-trailer rigs were the tops of their cabs.

The plant's general manager, John Greene, stood on high ground watching water rush past the plant where about 200 people work.

''I didn't think it would be this bad,'' he said. Green called it worse than the flood of 1993, which inundated huge areas of the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys but developed slowly and gave businesses time to deploy pumps and sandbags.

More than 400 homes were flooded early Saturday in several Oklahoma communities and parts of Tulsa, state officials said. More than 8 inches of rain fell in parts of Creek County.

At Sapulpa, Okla., where 200 homes and 12 businesses were flooded, creeks were back in their banks Sunday, but the gray sky gave Creek County Emergency Management Director B.J. Pope reason to worry.

''Until it can run and creeks can be emptied, we're still in danger,'' he said. ''We couldn't stand another 2 inches of rain.''

Ray and Joan Andis spent Sunday morning ripping soaked carpet out of their home in Sapulpa.

''What took six or seven hours to destroy, it's going to take that many weeks to straighten out,'' Ray Andis said.


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