Missouri News

Clarksville mayor says pending flooding could have been prevented

Josh Korte, a student at Bowling Green (Mo.) High School places sandbags Tuesday on Washington Street in Clarksville. He joined other volunteers from the school to keep pending floodwaters from the town, which are expected to arrive on Wednesday. | H-W Photo/Ethan Colbert
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 19, 2019 6:30 pm Updated: Mar. 19, 2019 6:35 pm

CLARKSVILLE, Mo. -- For the first time in its 174-year history, Richard Cottrell says the Elgin-Cottrell House in Clarksville will likely flood Wednesday when the waters from the Mississippi River pour into the basement and first-floor parlor of his historic house.

"I can't afford to protect it," Cottrell said. He estimates it would likely cost him $1 million to keep the water away from his home.

The two-story house, built in 1845, has been featured in Missouri Life Magazine, Victorian Homes Magazine and other publications, Cottrell said.

He said filmmakers for the blockbuster-hit "Lincoln" came to tour the house in preparation for the film.

Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said the city has lobbied the state government every year for more than a decade for funds to help the city purchase a temporary flood wall.

Every year, Smiley said her hopes are dashed by the General Assembly, who has yet to agree on a bill that would pay for a wall.

"All of this could have been prevented," Smiley said. "We could have put up that wall in a couple of days. It would have protected us."

Instead, the city has spent $20,000 in two days paying for sand, sandbags, dump truck rental and other equipment. City officials say the price of their work will grow exponentially as the city prepares for flood the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says might topple the record set by the Great Flood of 1993.

That year, waters reached a height of 37.73 feet and closed portions of Missouri 79, which is more than two blocks from the riverfront. Flood stage in Clarksville is 25 feet, with the city's business district on First Street flooding at 30.8 feet.

"On Wednesday, we are told to prepare for 31 or 32 feet of water," Smiley said. On its website, NOAA reports that flooding in Clarksville should peak at 32.1 feet.

Volunteers are working from 8:30 a.m. to dusk every day to prevent water from reaching the business district, which Smiley said will be emptied by Wednesday.

State Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin, R-Shelbina, was in Clarksville on Monday. She said the purpose of her visit was not to be photographed shaking hands with residents but instead for her to take photos and learn how the city is preparing for the flood.

She, too, said the flood could have been prevented by a temporary flood wall.

"Every investment we make in the state should be made with the goal to help Missourians prosper independently of government," O'Laughlin said. "This is a prime example of an investment we should be making."

O'Laughlin said she was prepared after touring the area to "relentlessly advocate" for the flood wall.

"The No. 1 thing for me right now is to bring attention to this issue."

Unlike previous floods, Smiley said she has been told that water could remain for several days because of a large ice formation blocking the flow of the water and the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers being clogged with floodwaters from Nebraska and elsewhere.

"If and when that ice melts, which it will melt, the water here will go higher," Smiley said.

In the meantime, longtime Clarksville residents are bracing for what is to come.

At the Clarksville United Methodist Church the congregation has opened a "Flood Kitchen" where volunteer cooks, such as Linda Blakey and Janie Busch, prepare meals for volunteers twice a day

On Sunday, the kitchen served 75 volunteers, and on Monday the kitchen served 58 volunteers. Cooks say they are scrambling to gather enough supplies because when the flood waters reach Missouri 79, Clarksville will become isolated, and supplies will become more scarce.

"We could go through what we have now in a weekend," Blakey said. "We are not crying wolf that the flood is coming. This is going to happen, and we need help."

Officials said the most pressing supplies needed are paper towels, plastic cups, paper plates, small desserts and nonperishable food items such as crackers or chips.

Should the highway close, motorists attempting to reach Clarksville with supplies would need to take a series of two-lane highways after exiting U.S. 61.

"When the highway gets closed off, it is awfully easy to turn on the news at night and to see disasters happening everywhere else and to think that we are in this by ourselves," Busch said.

Smiley said she feels much of the same way but is reminded that the city is not alone in its fight each time a nonresident signs up to fill sandbags.

"It means a lot. It truly does," Smiley said. "To have them here means that they care."

Smiley said even letters of support are welcome as she works to keep the spirits of the city's residents up despite her own internal worries that the town won't bounce back from this flood.

"I worry like I can't tell you," Smiley said. "You want to cry because you hurt. You hurt not just for yourself, but for your friends here. You hurt for this entire town, but this is the hand we've been dealt."

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