Any other year, the Northwest Missouri flooding would have been big news. But this year when the water was rising to the top of the levies on the Missouri River, a tornado was ripping a path six miles long through Joplin.
A couple of weeks earlier in the year, there were flood stories from Southeast Missouri, which had the added drama of the Corps of Engineers detonating a large amount of explosives to blow up the levy, instantly flooding thousands of acres.
Back up in the opposite corner of the state, the flooding didn’t have the same dramatic flashpoint. The water level came up, due to excessive water levels upstream. Levies began to fail, one right after another. Thousands of acres flooded. Then something unusual happened; in that nothing at all happened. The water didn’t go away. The Missouri River stayed high all summer. Statewide flooding never happened, largely because the massive flooding in four counties of Northwest Missouri took the pressure off of downstream levies. But because the river stayed high, those flooded fields have had nowhere to drain to for months. The water was finally beginning to recede in September, albeit slowly.
“The Missouri River is four miles wide now, and it has been five miles wide all summer,” Rev. Bruce Jeffries said in mid-September.
Jeffries serves the communities of Rockport and Watson. The church at Watson was closed during July and August due to roads being closed.
When the water does go down to normal levels, people know things may be different.
“We don’t know what we’ll find,” Jeffries said. “The river normally moves at 4 – 6 miles per hour, and it’s been flowing about 20 miles per hour all summer. It has probably carved a new channel.”
Many people in Northwest Missouri are very closely tied to the cities of Lincoln and Omaha in Nebraska. Some work there, or their doctors and other health care providers are based there. But what used to be a short drive up the interstate became a detour of hundreds of miles.
Interstate 29 has been shut down since June, having a major impact on local business.
“Our whole community has experienced much revenue loss,” said Rev. Crystal Karr, pastor of Mound City UMC and Sharp’s Grove UMC. “The Squaw Creek Truck Stop closed, which put several families out of work.”
Kate Mongan, the Federal Emergency Management Agency volunteer agency liaison who has been working in the area, said the prolonged nature of the disaster is taking its toll on people.
“This is a disaster like I’ve never seen before. Usually after a tornado or flood, people come back in after it happens and start to move forward. Many of these families have no way to move forward. They can’t process insurance claims until their homes have been inspected, and their homes are still flooded,” she said. “Domestic violence has gone up, as people are under extra stress from being displaced, often now living with two or three families in one household.”
Lora Cunningham is the district disaster response coordinator. She said at the first of October the water was going down significantly, but many homes still had several feet of water in them. Some homes that don’t have water in them still cannot be reached because the roads to them are under water. Some homeowners that have been able to get back to their homes have found them filled with mud a foot deep.
“A lot of these homes weren’t in the flood plain, and people don’t have flood insurance,” Cunningham said. “One person I spoke with who does have insurance has a $12,000 deductible.”
Cunningham is praying that Volunteer In Missions teams come to the area soon to help residents who are trying to get through this prolonged disaster. Local churches are ready to house volunteer teams, and a job list is ready to put people to work.
“I’ve been going house to house, and asking people if they need assistance,” Cunningham said. “Most people in this area are very independent, but many have agreed to accept help. It’s important that we have volunteer teams that are ready to come here and help people begin to put their lives back together.”
If you would like to organize a volunteer team to help people affected by the flood in Northwest Missouri, call Jeff Baker at 573- 474-7155 or e-mail baker@ umocm.com.