(ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH) – May 31, 2008 -- Jerry Gibson wandered down into his Chesterfield basement one day in March andnoticed a wet spot on his carpet. He looked around and found water slowly seeping through the walls.

"It was coming in on three sides," he said. "You couldn't stop it."

He started calling basement waterproofing companies but quickly found out hewasn't the only one whose basement had grown soggy.

"Each one of them quoted me 10 to 12 weeks of lead time," Gibson said.

So far, the beginning of the year has been the wettest of any on record for theSt. Louis area. More than 27 inches of precipitation has fallen at Lambert-St.Louis International Airport, according to the National Weather Service. That's12 inches above normal.

All that extra water had to find someplace to go.

From Illinois to St. Charles County, companies that specialize in waterproofingbasements and repairing moisture damage are reporting a flood of business.

And last weekend's constant showers didn't help - especially in Wentzville,where rain caused sewer backups and flooded basements of 40 to 50 homes, saidMayor Paul Lambi.

"With the saturation of the soils, the basements reach a breaking point," saidDave Thompson, the marketing director for Woods Basement Systems.

The flooding is affecting houses all over, Thompson said, and the age of a homedoesn't seem to matter. "It's happening to three-, 30- and 60-year-old houses,"Thompson said.

With more people making media rooms out of their basements, it has becomeincreasingly important to keep the space dry, Thompson said, noting that someto sink tens of thousands of dollars into home entertainment systems.

This past Tuesday, the phones at Woodard Cleaning and Restoration Services, acompany that restores waterlogged carpets, would not stop ringing. In all, thecompany received 410 calls for help with water damage, said Scott Dieckgraefe,Woodard's marketing director.

"That is the second-highest in our history," he said. "The highest was thispast March, when we received 430 calls in one day."

Scott Vandover, Woodard's vice president of restoration, said people shouldcontact a restoration specialist within 48 hours of when they first noticewater in their basement. Otherwise mold can set in, causing irrevocable damage.The company, located in Brentwood, uses high-tech probes to detect damage notvisible to the eye and high-velocity commercial fans and dehumidifiers tocombat moisture.

Woodard - unlike Woods Basement Systems - doesn't fix cracks in basements orinstall sump pumps to prevent future leakage. So once the company is finisheddrying out rugs or drywall out, home and business owners must decide how theywant to prevent future water problems.

Many, Vandover said, do nothing and hope for the best.

"You would be surprised at how many residences we make multiple stops at everytime it rains," he said.

Larry Case, executive vice president of the Missouri Association of InsuranceAgents, said he hasn't noticed an increase in claims from homeowners withflooded basements, but that didn't surprise him. Insurance policies don'tgenerally cover flood damage, he noted, unless people request it.

Until now, many haven't had much of reason to do so.

"There's been places that have flooded recently that have never floodedbefore," Case said.

Jerry Gibson, a retiree, built his home 30 years ago. Because it's in a hillyarea, he never expected the home would flood.But he's having to rip up carpets and drywall and has hired Woods BasementSystems to install a sump pump to ward off water in the future.

The tab? Nearly $10,000 and rising, he said.

"It's an expensive lesson."