TIMES BEACH • In 1925, the old St. Louis Times newspaper offered clubhouse sites along the Meramec River for a "popular new summer resort." Fifty years later, it was a countryfied outer suburb for people of modest means.
Built on bottomland east of Eureka, Times Beach was vulnerable to the periodic rages of the Meramec, a river that drains a wide area of wooded hills. Renowned for its winding miles of rewarding scenery, the Meramec also is a treacherous rain ditch.
Times Beach residents knew how to let the floods pass and get by with ragtag repairs.
In November 1982, they learned that oil used to spray the town's many dirt lanes had been laced with dioxin, a toxin deadly to animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began taking samples.
"People want their peace of mind," said resident Lane Jumper.
As they awaited results, the river changed everything. On Dec. 2, with the temperature a record 74, rain began falling steadily, then in torrents - 5 inches near St. Louis, accompanied by tornadoes that heavily damaged New Baden, Ill. Parts of eastern Missouri, including some of the Meramec watershed, had more than 10 inches over four days.
The first big flooding was along the Cuivre River, chasing people from Old Monroe. Overflow rushed over the Lake Saint Louis dam. Even the Mississippi River rose nine feet.
Almost 4,000 people already were homeless in Missouri and Illinois as the Meramec's swollen tributaries converged. People along the lower Meramec were warned of a crest almost 20 feet over flood stage at Valley Park.