Valley Park, Mo. Residents of small towns along the Meramec River breathed a sigh of relief Saturday as the stream finally crested following days of flooding caused by torrential rainfall across the Midwest.
At Valley Park, the river rose to a peak of 37.8 feet Saturday morning, well above the flood stage of 16 feet but still below the record of 39.7 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
It was the first trial of the town's $49 million levee, which stands a few feet above Saturday's crest and was designed to withstand the biggest flood that might be expected in a century.
"It's a 100-year event, and it's a 100-year levee," said Army Corps of Engineers Col. Lewis Setliff. "It got tested, and it passed."
Elsewhere, rivers were still rising in southwest Illinois and parts of Arkansas, chasing people from their homes and into shelters. Rivers had mostly begun receding in Ohio.
At least 17 deaths have been linked to the weather over the past week, and one person was missing in Arkansas.
Thousands of people in Missouri had fled to Red Cross shelters or to the homes of friends or relatives.
The high water pushing against the other side of the Valley Park levee didn't bother customers at Meramec Jack's bar and grill, where owner Tracy Ziegler was pouring cold beer Saturday morning.
Ziegler, 47, had been confident all along that the levee would hold.
In southern Missouri, water poured through several breaches in levees and led authorities to evacuate towns west of Cape Girardeau. At least 200 homes and 13 businesses had been evacuated in Cape Girardeau County, said emergency management director Dick Knaup. At least 70 Missouri counties have reported flooding this week.
Much of the flooding in Illinois was in sparsely populated areas, but several dozen people were evacuated from their homes in Murphysboro on Saturday, said Patti Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
"For some of these places, this is their 500-year flood," she said.