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Missouri declares a state of emergency after record rain in St. Louis area

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Record-breaking storms drenched St. Louis on Tuesday, shattering a previous daily rainfall record set more than a century ago. Both state and local officials in Missouri have now declared a state of emergency. Sarah Fentem of St. Louis Public Radio reports.

SARAH FENTEM, BYLINE: A lot of rain fell in the early hours Tuesday morning. National Weather Service meteorologist Lydia Jaja says the storm was also intense.

LYDIA JAJA: It's definitely unusual to see this amount of rain in this short amount of time.

FENTEM: More than 7 1/2 inches fell in just 6 hours. That much water overwhelmed the city's infrastructure, turned highways into rolling rivers and stranded hundreds. Throughout the day, rescue workers used inflatable rafts to save people and pets from flooded houses and cars. Many have ended up at a handful of emergency shelters.

MARY TOLLER: I just grabbed what I could and got out of there.

FENTEM: That's Mary Toller. On Tuesday evening, she was wrapped in a pink blanket at a makeshift shelter in a St. Louis County rec center. Sitting next to her were two hastily packed suitcases. Early Tuesday morning, she saw water rushing into her basement apartment in North St. Louis County.

TOLLER: I did have an idea from the amount of water. I figured I wouldn't get back in there for months.

FENTEM: Toller escaped the apartment, but then got stuck in her car. After hours of wading in the flooded street, emergency workers finally arrived.

TOLLER: I have nothing. I'm not complaining. I'm not venting. I'm just thankful that I got out of there and wasn't still asleep.

FENTEM: Toller hopes she'll be able to get to a friend's house or a hotel soon. Intense weather events like Tuesday morning's storms are becoming more common, says Claire Masteller. She's an Earth and planetary sciences professor at Washington University in St. Louis. She says the storm was a big, singular event, but also part of a trend.

CLAIRE MASTELLER: But that's connected to climate. So climate is sort of the integration of all of our weather events.

FENTEM: Masteller says as the planet gets hotter, warmer air holds more water, which is released as heavier downpours.

MASTELLER: We are, essentially, supplying more fuel, which then, when these rainstorms happen, there's more water in the atmosphere that then falls as rain.

FENTEM: Meteorologists say the wet weather will continue through Thursday night.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Fentem in St. Louis.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEGENDARY SKIES' "ALEUTIAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Fentem