UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. – Dozens of homes remain condemned in University City following July’s flash flooding.
The city is grappling with tens of millions of dollars in damages, including city vehicles that could have been moved. Now, we’re learning about a potential weakness in the city’s early warning system.
The flash floods hit areas never flooded before in University City. It led to about 50 rescues and an entire fleet of city vehicles totaled before most people woke up.
The contents of entire homes lined University City streets into September because the city lost all of its trash trucks to flooding.
An ambulance is one of about 20 vehicles that will not drive anymore, including police cars that have also now been vandalized as they’ve been sitting—immovable—waiting for an insurance adjuster.
“The shocker is the recurrence of these things…how frequently they occur,” Bob Criss, a geological scientist and Washington University professor emeritus, said.
“This was maybe a 50-year flood,” he said.
Criss volunteers with retired engineer Eric Stein as stormwater commissioners, appointed by University City to make a difference.
“We have a lot of citizens that have trouble sleeping at night when a storm comes,” Stein said.
They say newly installed, and strategically placed, rain gauges triggered precise warnings.
“This warning is dialed right into the River Des Peres, and when you get one of these, it means you’d better move your car,” Stein said.
But they say the computerized rain gauges are not connected to an emergency notification system that would send out Amber Alert-like warnings.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” Stein said.
“We have the capability of issuing real warnings through that system,” Criss said.
It’ll take action by the city council, which commissioners Criss and Stein plan to brief next week.
“I’m going to describe that, our system a little bit, on Monday and make several recommendations to the mayor and city council,” Criss said.
University City declined an interview, opting to send out a written statement that said, in part, “The mayor and council are pursuing the construction of a detention basin that will help in mitigating some of the flooding in University City, as well as in communities downstream from University City. Stormwater management is a regional concern that the mayor and council are taking a leadership role in addressing.”
Stein and Criss say action must come quickly.
“If you’re in that current, you’re a goner,” Criss said.
Both stormwater commissioners wrote a recent report about the flash flooding with another colleague, which can be found in the report below.