As the hours passed, the rain continued to fall and floodwaters inundated the town and surrounding areas, forcing people to flee or wait for rescue teams to find them.
Jessica Perez was woken by her son around 3:30 a.m. to find her basement flooded with several inches of water, she told CNN. Video taken by Perez shows the basement covered in murky water, soaking furniture legs as Christmas decorations and other items float.
The water had receded by 9 a.m., revealing a layer of debris and black mud and leaving everything in the basement in shambles, Perez said. “Never in my life have I experienced something like this,” she said.
Flooding killed at least one person on Tuesday. The man’s body was found in a vehicle that had been submerged in more than 8 feet of water, city fire chief Dennis Jenkerson said. Police were called to the low area by a concerned resident and found the body when the water receded, he said.
Rescuers fanned out across the region to help stranded residents stuck in the flooding. Firefighters responded to about 18 homes where people were trapped, saving six people and six dogs, the department said. About 15 people chose to shelter in place.
Highways turned into rivers
Floods that inundated homes also turned roads into rushing rivers, forcing multiple street closures as vehicles were submerged up to windows and drivers were stranded throughout the city, waiting for rescuers on boats.
A stretch of I-70 in the St. Louis area — where vehicles have been seen stuck in water — was closed in both directions early in the morning and motorists were told to avoid the freeway.
“You can see there are cars floating up there,” driver Jerome Smith said in a video he took while stuck on I-70 for three hours.
As of Tuesday afternoon, highways were mostly clear and all bridges over the Peres River were open, said Heather Taylor, director of public safety for St. Louis. “As we hope the worst is behind us, we want to keep the public informed,” Taylor added.
Footage showed water rushing through the Forest Park-DeBaliviere Metrolink station. “It’s currently a river…I haven’t seen this in the four years I’ve lived here,” said Tony Nipert, who lives near the train station.
Such intense rainfall in the St. Louis area only occurs once every 500 years, on average, according to NWS data.
According to a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, large one-day rainfall dumps that occurred once a decade (between 1850 and 1900) are expected to become more common.
CNN’s Amy Simonson, Amy Roberts, Sharif Paget, Sara Smart, Melissa Alonso, Jason Hanna and Caroll Alvarado contributed to this report.