St. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – State elected leaders are calling for change after the death of Aaleya Carter, 12, who was sucked into a storm drain off of Interstate 70 near St. Louis Lambert International during flash flooding early Saturday morning.
Nearly a 7-mile stretch of the interstate from the airport into north St. Louis has been flood-prone for decades.
“My heart just aches for Aaleya, her family, her siblings,” said State Rep. Raychel Proudie of Ferguson, who represents the area where the tragedy occurred. “I’m calling for a lot of change, a lot of attention to be paid to this. You can’t have this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ reactive approach to public safety.”
The National Weather Service officially reported a little more than two inches of rain in the area over a 4-hour period from late Friday night into early Saturday morning.
“It would have never crossed my mind for one second that a downpour of rain would have led to a 12-year-old girl losing her life,” said State Senator Brian Williams.
A solution could mean a major project like elevating the stretch of Interstate 70.
Another key issue, according to Proudie, is responsibility for the drainage systems. Though storm drains on the interstate were clear Monday, they remain choked with debris along Natural Bridge Road, which is essentially the outer road along that stretch of I-70.
A driver tried to U-turn off the flooded interstate and get onto nearby Airflight Drive around 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, investigators said. The car was swept off of an interstate ramp and Aaleya was sucked into a large, uncovered storm drain as she and her relatives got out of the car. She was found, lifeless, on the other side of the airport.
All possible contributing factors are being investigated.
“MoDOT is actively working with the highway patrol to determine what transpired,” MoDOT St. Louis District Engineer Tom Blair told Fox 2 News in a statement.
Proudie and Williams said they better be.
“Can we put some kind of gate, grated gate (over the deadly uncovered drain) so it’s not able to suck in a person-sized object to cause such a tragedy,” Representative Proudie said.
An airport spokesman said even though the drain where Aaleya died runs under the airport, MoDOT maintains that drain.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District said it maintains the drains along Natural Bridge Road and that the drains would be cleared right away. He pointed out though that drains were likely clogged as a result of the flash flooding and not a cause of it.
“We should be working towards insuring we have roads and an infrastructure that can withstand heavy downpours of rain,” Senator Williams said. “There needs to be a conversation with MoDOT and we need to have a conversation with the highway patrol and find out what did they see out there.”
Meanwhile, Aaleya’s friends are planning a fundraiser in her honor from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Billions Entertainment Center, 4519 Olive Street in St. Louis.
Aaleya was killed during a storm early Saturday after the car she was riding in was swept into a storm drain near St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
Jermond Dukes is a close family friend and helped organize the event.