As the hours wore on, it continued to rain and flood the city and surrounding areas, forcing people to flee or wait for rescue teams to find them.
Jessica Perez was awakened by her son around 3:30 a.m. to find her basement flooded with several inches of water, she told CNN. Video made by Perez shows the basement covered in murky water, the legs of furniture soaked as Christmas decorations and other objects float around.
The water had disappeared by 9 a.m., exposing a layer of rubble and black silt, destroying everything in the basement, Perez said. “Never in my life have I experienced anything like this,” she said.
At least one person was killed in the flooding on Tuesday. The man’s body was found in a vehicle submerged under more than 6 feet of water, city fire chief Dennis Jenkerson said. Police were called to the low-lying area by a concerned resident and found the body as the water receded, he said.
Rescue workers dispersed across the area to help stranded residents trapped in the flooding. The fire service responded to about 18 houses where people were trapped, rescuing six people and six dogs, the department said. About 15 people chose to take shelter in place.
Highways turned into rivers
The flooding homes also turned roads into gushing rivers, closing several streets as vehicles flooded to windows and trapped drivers across the city waiting for rescue workers on boats.
A stretch of I-70 in the St. Louis area — where vehicles became trapped in the water — was closed in both directions early in the morning and motorists were asked to avoid the freeway.
“You can see cars floating around there,” driver Jerome Smith said in a video he shot while stuck on I-70 for three hours.
By Tuesday afternoon, highways were largely clear and all bridges over the River des Peres were open, said Heather Taylor, St. Louis’ director of public safety. “While we hope the worst is over, we want to keep the public informed,” Taylor added.
Images showed water flowing through the Forest Park-DeBaliviere Metrolink station. “It’s a river at the moment… I’ve never seen this in the four years I’ve lived here,” says Tony Nipert, who lives near the station.
Precipitation so intense in the St. Louis area, according to data from the NWS, occurs on average only once every 500 years.
According to a report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, large one-day precipitation dumps that used to be once every ten years (between 1850 and 1900) are expected to become more frequent.
CNN’s Amy Simonson, Amy Roberts, Sharif Paget, Sara Smart, Melissa Alonso, Jason Hanna and Caroll Alvarado contributed to this report.