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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Flood Brings More Than Water

After 100 days and nights, the waters receded.
And, three weeks ago, Janice Phelps was ready to finally go back to their home; Ralph, her husband, tried to prepare her.
It’s bad, he’d said. Real bad.
Still, what the 63-year-old woman encountered shocked her: furry, mold-covered walls in their living room; muck two feet deep in the basement; carpets squishing with her every step. When she kicked one warped kitchen floor board, a green snake slithered out.
“I can’t bear seeing our home this way. It was our dream home. It’s too far gone to save,” she said, biting her lip, trying not to cry.
For most of us, the water was little more than a news story and some inconvenience. Interstate 29 is open again. Life moves on.
But the broken levees and battered souls stretch up and down the Missouri River on both sides.
Take Atchison County, a few miles from the Nebraska line: Amid a sandy moonscape along U.S. 136, 90 homes destroyed, 47,000 acres of Missouri’s most fertile farmland scoured.
The experience is, say former residents, “like grieving a death.”
Living in a rental now, the Phelpses are taking out another mortgage to build a new home.
“This has been life-changing for us,” said Janice Phelps, who added that this holiday season, she and her husband are not putting out any Christmas decorations.
“We’re just too sad. Christmas is a time of peace… in your own home.”
Many like them got back to their homesteads just before Thanksgiving to see what the waters spared.
And it’s not much.
All but five homes within the river’s reach are forever uninhabitable, especially without the deep pockets required for repairs. The standard $30,000 payout from the government isn’t enough to repair or replace these buildings, or to raise them high enough to avoid the next round of high water.
It’s likely to come. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says there’s not enough time or money to fix all the levees before next spring.
The empty homes — windowless shells striped by high water markings, many shoved off foundations — have become a concrete metaphor for how their owners feel.
“I’ll be honest with you, there were times these last few months I wanted to kill myself, it hurt so bad,” said Connie Shandy, 57, with a ruddy complexion and angry eyes. “The stress is overwhelming…. People tell us to just build another house, or go modular. But we have no money.”
The Shandys, along with 10 neighbors, came together last week at a neighbor’s home that was spared to share with each other what they all are struggling with. There was some dark humor, but bitterness, too, at their helplessness.
“Our lives have changed forever, but few people have noticed. This community will never be the same,” said Kenny Bemberger, 67, a retired construction worker and meat packer who is now renting a house for himself and his wife in nearby Rock Port.
“This is the most devastating disaster since the 1830s. We know why there’s been so little publicity; we’re just a handful of people, and we don’t count.”
Yes, the area suffered great floods before — 1952 and 1993, he acknowledged. “But our family stayed because the floods went away in just a few weeks, and it wasn’t as deep as this one,”

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