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Monsoon rains flood Mo towns

Hundreds of homes evacuated, 5 die, as even small creeks became raging rivers

BY NANCY HOGLAND | MARBLE HILL | March 19, 2008


"It all happened so quickly that everyone was taken by surprise."

—Darlene Matthews


Torrential rainfall and major widespread flash flooding killed at least five people and forced hundreds from their homes in southern and southeastern Missouri. Some areas of the state have received more than a foot of rain in 24 hours.

“Even though there were flood warnings issued, and the weathermen were all predicting more rain, no one expected anything like this,” said Darlene Matthews, church secretary at Marble Hill’s First Baptist Church where an emergency shelter was set up Tuesday night for those displaced from their homes. “It all happened so quickly that everyone was taken by surprise.”

She said waters from the normally narrow and shallow Crooked Creek quickly spilled out of the banks and spread to nearby homes. More than 30 residents, the majority of whom lived in mobile homes, were forced to flee as the creek reached record heights, even flowing over the bridge that connects the east and west sides of the town.

Patton resident Jeannie David, whose 200-year-old farmhouse sits between White Water and Yantz creeks, both normally dry, said after receiving close to 12 inches of rain, that the raging waters resembled the Colorado River.

“Honestly we had white water surrounding us. We were cut off from everything, including some of our animals. I’m still not able to get to some of my horses we keep on the other side of the creek.

“Fortunately we only got about a foot of water in the basement. I was getting scared because the water was getting close to the electric panel on the hot water heater,” she said, adding that an early morning survey found that her road had been washed away, fencing had been ripped out and at least one cow was missing.

In Cape Girardeau, the more than 13 inches of rain received there overwhelmed the La Salle storm-water basin and the spillway of Little Bear Lake, closing numerous streets and surrounding homes throughout the city.

Major Benjamin M. Stillwell, corps officer for the Cape Girardeau Salvation Army, said he opened the doors Tuesday evening after receiving numerous calls for help.

“We quickly had 17 people here, most of who had fled because they had water surrounding their homes and flooding their basements,” Stillwell said. “Several were able to make arrangements with family or friends but we ended up with 10 people from four different families spending the night and staying for breakfast. We hear that a few will be back tonight.”

He said a canteen was on its way to the Gordonville Fire Department in Dutchtown to feed firefighters and volunteers who had begun sandbagging efforts to save that town from being submerged.

About 300 of the 900 homes in Piedmont were evacuated Tuesday when the McKenzie Creek flowed over its banks and caused flooding 2 to 3 feet deep in the center of town. Dozens of people were rescued in about 15 to 20 boat trips.

In Shannon County, sheriff's deputies evacuated 30 homes near Winona. They were also called into action when two teenagers took a boat into flooded Hurricane Creek between Winona and Alton. Their boat sank when it took on water and the two clung to trees while the Missouri Water Patrol sent a boat and rescuers for them. However, that boat also took on water and sank, stranding the officers. When two deputies tried to get to them in another boat, it also sank. Finally local volunteers managed to pull everyone out without anyone getting injured.

In Winona in Shannon County, 20 to 30 homes along Pike Creek were evacuated. Water had flooded Winona High School and the Dollar Store. Missouri Route 19 was briefly closed when dislodged propane tanks got stuck under a bridge.

Piedmont residents Scott and Marilyne Peterson and their 25-year-old son, Scott Jr., fled their mobile home in rural Piedmont after watching the water rise 3 feet in five minutes. The family had just enough time to grab some essentials, a few clothes and the family dog.

“You didn't have time to worry,” Scott Peterson Sr. said. ''You just grab what you can and go and you're glad the people are OK.”

In Ellington, as many as 50 homes and half the businesses were evacuated, officials said.

In Rogersville, a town of about 1,500 people 20 miles east of Springfield, water from flooded creeks flowed into as many as three dozen homes.

“Some of them have washing machines and dryers floating in several feet of water,” Fire Chief Rich Stirts said.

Near Zalma, located on the Castor River, crews were called out to rescue 23 people stranded in their homes.

Firefighters and police were kept busy pulling motorists out of flooded roads in numerous areas around the state. Many major roads throughout the state were closed for at least part of the day, either by flood conditions or mudslides brought on by the downpour. Interstate 44 has been closed since 4 p.m. Wednesday when water from the Gasconade River covered both lanes of the highway. All but tractor trailers are being detoured from the 140 mile mark to the 145 mile mark. Officials say the highway could be closed for days. By 8:30 p.m., the Gasconade was 35 feet above flood stage and still rising.

Rescues didn't just include people. In Jackson, police officer Ryan Medlin retrieved a dog and her puppies from a yard filling with water. After taking the adult dog to safety, he heard the puppies in the doghouse and returned through the water to retrieve them.

Wednesday morning, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt signed two State of Emergency Executive Orders that activated the State Emergency Operations Center to allow state agency resources to assist local jurisdictions with their emergency response, and also allowed activation of the Missouri National Guard.

The rain ended Wednesday, leaving residents and community officials assessing the damage of the sudden and ceaseless rain that began Monday and continued virtually nonstop into Wednesday morning.

Officials also are keeping a close eye on larger rivers fed by the flooding tributaries. The Meramec is expected to crest 10-15 feet above flood stage at some spots, threatening towns like Eureka and Valley Park. The Big and St. Francis rivers were also expected to see significant flooding. The National Weather Service predicts by Saturday this week’s storms will push the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to near flood stage.

All but one of those killed in the floods died in traffic-related incidents.


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