THE threat of a propane gas explosion in St. Louis and a failed levee in nearby St. Charles prompted early morning evacuations yesterday as the rampaging Missouri and Mississippi rivers headed for record crests.
The waters surged into the area from all sides, testing the St. Louis flood wall, straining a soggy levee in the city's south end, and overwhelming farmlands. Thousands of people are without drinking water just to the east in rural Illinois. (Alton bears up, Page. 3)
St. Louis police ordered the evacuation of about 2,500 people in a 30-square- block area where the River Des Peres empties into the Mississippi. Officials are worried that 50 propane tanks, floating in flood waters at a Phillips Pipeline Company site, could explode.
A fleet of 30 buses assembled to take residents to an emergency shelter as the city shut off utilities in the area. Efforts to stabilize the tanks were halted Sunday night by a flash fire. It burned itself out in less than a minute.
In St. Charles, just northwest of St. Louis, several sections of a levee along the Missouri gave way early yesterday, forcing the evacuation of about 200 homes. Less than an hour after the break, water was already six feet deep in some areas. Some 1,000 residents left their homes Sunday after water poured over a levee.
Officials said the Mississippi would reach 49.7 feet, 19.7 feet above the flood level. The Missouri was expected to crest at 39 feet this afternoon, 14 feet above flood stage, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Ferry in St. Louis.
A key unknown was the city's 20-year-old, 52-foot flood wall, which never has been tested by such relentless pressure. Workers have reinforced it since it sprang a leak recently in an industrial area north of the downtown.