Residents left with nothing but cleanup after flood

Monday, March 24, 2008 | 6:33 p.m. CDT; updated 8:55 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

PACIFIC — Nick and Connie Weislar were doing everything they could think of Monday to dry out their home after floodwaters receded — tearing up soggy carpet, building a blaze in their fireplace, running a fan, even turning on the flame on their turkey fryer.

They have lived through floods before, in 1982 and 1994, but when the Meramec River and a nearby creek rose late last week, they found themselves again trying to restore their home’s interior after it had survived more than a foot of water.

“It’s our third one, and I’m about tired of it. Either build a levee or buy us out,” said Connie Weislar, 53, from her home in Pacific, about 35 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Flooding in Missouri killed five people last week, and left thousands unable to return home or with the unenviable task of trying to make flooded out homes livable again.

In Pacific and other Missouri communities hit hard by flooding residents who could go home said it could be years before their lives return to normal.

Nick Weislar, a 53-year-old iron worker, said he had heard people saying that people in the St. Louis area could “breathe a sigh of relief” because rivers had crested. That, he said, isn’t really the case when your home smells of sewage and wet mud, when the furniture you weren’t able to move elsewhere has to be put with the garbage at the curb, when you feel exhausted just thinking about all the clean up.

“When the water goes down, that’s when it hits you, the hard work ahead of you,” he said.

It’s estimated about 200 homes and businesses were damaged in Pacific, a town of about 7,000 residents.

City Hall bustled with activity Monday. People stopped by to pick up donated mops and cleaners, to get questions answered or a free tetanus shot.

City Administrator Harold Selby said inspectors from Pacific and other communities had already visited properties hit by floodwaters for an initial check to determine if each was inhabitable or not. He coordinated with volunteer and church groups as well as prison officials to get about 30 inmates to help remove sandbags from outside of area businesses.

And he wondered why Federal Emergency Management Agency officials weren’t immediately in town helping in the flood’s aftermath.

“I think preparing for the flood was a lot easier than this phase,” Selby said.

FEMA spokesman Jack Heesch said eight teams, including members who traveled to Missouri from elsewhere in the U.S., would begin preliminary damage assessments today in 41 Missouri counties. That’s the first step in determining if counties qualify for a FEMA program allowing disaster-impacted households to qualify for FEMA aid for home repairs, rental assistance and other recovery measures.

The Weislars said they have flood insurance, but they had heard it might be a few days before an insurance company representative could assess the damage. They, and Nick’s brother, who lives with them, had stayed in their four-bedroom house during the flood. They had a boat tied up to the side that they could reach by ladder, and brought their German Shepherd and two cats upstairs with them.

A card table, two folding chairs and two-liter bottle of Sprite remained out on their roof, where Nick Weislar said he had waved to a Coast Guard helicopter to let rescuers know they were OK and didn’t want to evacuate.

Weislar said the family didn’t want to leave the pets, or his gun collection, unattended. They loaded some stuff into a U-Haul before the flood, and moved what they could to higher places in their house and in a separate cabin they own.

“You step over thousand dollar bills to save dimes,” Weislar said of what had been moved to higher ground, shortly after pointing out a crack in the brick foundation that had likely widened from water exposure.

Clad in wading boots and with bristle brush in hand, Connie Weislar, who cleans houses for a living, stood in her now largely vacant family room with a friend who had come to help them clean. Weislar knew family photos had been packed up somewhere, but she hadn’t been able to find them. She knew, too, that despite her best efforts, she would find mud months from now in place she previously thought she had scoured.

“In two years, we’ll be looking for something, and I’ll think, ’Oh, we lost that in the flood,”’ she said.

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