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FEMA sets up flood disaster recovery centers in Missouri

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 | 9:43 p.m. CDT; updated 6:55 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Some towns along the Mississippi River are beginning the slow task of recovery, even as water remains high.

With the river finally receding from near-record levels, the Federal Emergency Management Agency opened disaster recovery centers Clarksville and Winfield on Tuesday.

Communities like Clarksville and Hamburg, Ill., are seeing the river drop as much as a foot a day, though the pace of the decline will slow, said Ben Sipprell, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. Many towns can expect the river to remain well above technical flood stage for weeks to come.

A few haven’t yet hit high-water marks. The Mississippi was expected to crest 12.6 feet above flood stage in Chester, Ill., and 12.5 feet above flood stage in Cape Girardeau, both on Wednesday. No major problems were expected.

Up to 3 inches of rain is possible over the next five days in central Missouri, but there was no early indication the rainfall would impact the crests.

The damage south of St. Louis has been minimal compared to that to the north. In Clarksville, even small signs of progress are being met with enthusiasm.

The river continued to press against sandbag walls that protect the small brick buildings that make up downtown. An estimated 14,000 volunteer hours were needed to build the barrier that was still being monitored around the clock. But officials said the receding river allowed for a paring back on the use of pumps and generators.

A market under new ownership opened Tuesday to pump gasoline and sell groceries, services the town had been without for about a year, even before the flood hit.

“I had to go in and give them a hug,” Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said.

Other shops in the town known for its arts, crafts and antiques won’t reopen until perhaps August, Smiley said.

“The antique mall, you can only get to that by boat, and that’s the biggest source of tax revenue for the city,” she said.

Five homes and two businesses in Clarksville remained cut off from water service, and another 35 homes were relying on bottled water.

FEMA spokesman Don Bolger encouraged flood victims to register for disaster assistance even if they have insurance. They could qualify for supplemental grants or for low-interest government loans.

Bolger said flood victims can start cleaning up and making repairs, but he urged them to first call their insurance companies, to take photos of damage, and to save receipts. In registering with FEMA, victims will need to be able to provide identification, a Social Security number, insurance papers and information about where they are currently staying with a good contact number.

Housing assistance is available and Bolger said people should not stay in flooded homes. Bolger urged those forced from their homes to check into a motel, hotel or other housing and save receipts.

“Do whatever is necessary to keep your family safe,” Bolger said.

Flood victims seeking assistance can call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or go to fema.gov.


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