RARE FLOODING EVENT: MoDOT says waterfalls led to flooding on U.S. 65 near Saddlebrooke in late-April

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 4:27 PM CDT
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SADDLEBROOKE, Mo. (KY3) - With its rolling hills and surrounding bluffs, the scenic view along U.S. 65 near Busiek State Park is typical of the Ozarks beauty.

Just south of an off-road leading to the park are two elevated stretches of U.S. 65 separated by a valley that in late-April caused some anxious moments for drivers traveling southbound near the 26.6 mile-marker on Wednesday morning.

A torrential downfall of rain in a matter of minutes caused a flash flood on the busy highway, covering the road and creating a dangerous situation for those trying to get past it.

“That’s a pretty rare event. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that,” said Missouri Department of Transportation District Maintenance Engineer Darin Hamelink. “What happened there was we had about 4-5 inches of rain in a short time period. Then we had a lot of sticks, mud, and debris that washed off a bluff just south of Busiek State Park, ran down the hill, crossed over the ditch and up against the concrete (walls that separate the north-south lanes). And right there at that location we’ve got three metal grate inlets that plugged up with mud, debris and leaves.”

MoDOT personnel quickly responded to clean out the drainage grates, but the real game-changer was the run-off from the bluffs.

“They said it looked like a waterfall coming off that bluff,” Hamelink said as video of the scene shows at least seven different torrents of water flowing down the bluffs, carrying debris from the side of the rocks onto the highway. “We do keep an eye on it for rock that falls down in the ditch. It’s far enough off the road that it’s not a danger to anyone. There’s a lot of vegetation up on that bluff so it’s surprising to see that much debris wash off because usually when it’s heavily vegetated it’s stable.”

In this case it was not and police arrived to help block off the water-covered highway. Cars were able to get into a single-file and go around the flooding on an incline curb of the road where the water wasn’t as deep.

MoDOT said that in looking back and accessing what happened in the incident, there wasn’t much they could have done to avoid it.

“That was more of a mother nature-type event,” Hamelink said. “I don’t know that we could have done anything different honestly.”

Hamelink explained that while MoDOT will monitor the area in the future and periodically clean out the drainage grates, right now they have no plans to make any major changes for a problem that happens more often on less-traveled rural roads.

“On a major route like this it’s pretty rare because these are designed to a very high level with that much traffic,” he said. “They’re designed to handle a 100-year flood typically. But it seems like we have a hundred year flood ever other year.”

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