I am a bit late to the game on this, but I want to get this out and onto the record. It involves the incorporation of lots of information from many sources.
The city of Arnold received some criticism for its response to the Meramec River flooding in late December. One major complaint was that Arnold shut the power off to homes that were not affected by flood water. This rendered these homeowners unable to operate their sump pumps, and when their sewers backed up, they could not get the water out. This led to the ruining of basements that the homeowners say could have been prevented. This issue was covered in the January 14 Leader, which gave testimony from several Arnold residents.
The city’s response was that Ameren recommended turning the power off and that this is a regular practice, though affected Arnold residents say it had not happened there before. But even if cutting the power is a good idea, was it done to too many homes?
Let’s look at some numbers. First,according to the Leader article linked above, power was shut off to 530 homes in Arnold on late December 29, two days ahead of the river crest. According to Ameren, they shut off power to about “1,600 customers in flood-prone areas ahead of the rising floodwaters” – that’s for the whole region. It seems a bit odd to me that almost 1/3 of all disconnected homes were in Arnold, given what happened in other cities west of Arnold along the river, like Fenton and Valley Park.
Second, look at the numbers for flood-affected homes in Arnold. On December 30, the city said it thought “at least 150 homes would be affected.” The Red Cross tallied nine homes destroyed and 146 with major damage in Arnold. The city reported that 332 homes were affected, but that includes those that had just a small amount of water in any part of the structure. So there were definitely hundreds of homes not affected by the flood in any significant way that had their power shut off.
Who decided which homes to cut off? In the Leader, Arnold merely said the decision was made after consulting with Ameren and Rock Fire. In a terse response, Ameren told me that “emergency responders requested temporary service disconnections for Ameren Missouri business and residential customers in flood-prone areas.” This sounds like Arnold picked the areas to shut off, and it would make sense that Ameren would defer to the city in this situation.
Why did Arnold shut off power to so many homes? Was it because they overestimated the flood extent? Arnold police chief Robert Shockey said December 30 that “the Meramec River will crest at 49 feet between 1-5 p.m. Thursday (the 31st).” However, the NOAA River Forecast Center projected a crest of 47.2 feet, which was the actual crest. Here’s what Fox CFO and Arnold city council candidate John Brazeal posted to Facebook on January 15:
There is a credibility disaster in progress at Arnold city hall. Here is a recent example.
On Thursday, December 31, 2015, the Meramec River crested at 47.26 feet. The Meramec River was already in a minor flood stage when prolonged rainfall occurred between Saturday, December 26 and Monday, December 28. This major rain event had been predicted a few days earlier.
The National Weather Service collects data and issues official predictions regarding the weather and river levels. Not once did this organization predict a crest greater than 47.3 feet for the Meramec River. Despite this fact, Mayor Counts administration claimed on Wednesday, December 30 they were notified the river would crest at 49 feet. This wild claim was not supported by official sources.
And also this:
Now in the January 14, 2016 Leader Newspaper article, city representatives attempt to downplay the misinformation about the river crest and claim they only had two days of notice.
I was watching the river levels in case flood protection was needed at any Fox C-6 facilities. My notes indicate that on Sunday, December 27, predictions were the Meramec would crest above 45 feet; and on Tuesday, December 29, predictions were the Meramec would crest above 46 feet. Clearly, there were more than two days of advance notice of a major flood event. Seems the city is trying to hide why they were slow to provide sand and sandbags to residents in flood prone neighborhoods.
When decisions are based upon misinformation, bad decisions are made, such as electricity being shut off to homes that were not at risk of flooding. Consequently, residents were prevented from powering sump pumps, food in refrigerators and freezers was ruined, and people needing electric for medical devices had to be relocated unnecessarily. City officials need to provide answers for the misinformation and the slow flood response.
Was this 49 foot number, which came from who knows where, used to determine which houses had their power cut off? All homes that had their power turned off had to be inspected before power could be restored and residents could return to their homes.
Brazeal mentions another complaint – the city was slow to provide sand and sandbags. It was Shockey who claimed in the Leader that the city only had two days to prepare for the floods, though it is clear that there was more time available.
This was called the worst flood in the city’s history. The response was not up to par. One might say that it is best to be safe and shut off power to more than enough homes, but that created more bad outcomes than otherwise would have occurred, due to unaddressable sewage backups. And by getting sand delivered sooner, perhaps more homes would have been declared safe on December 29, when the power was cut off, and power could have been cut off to fewer homes.