WINFIELD - More than a month after the Mississippi River inundated this northeast Missouri town, volunteers have begun removing the hundreds of thousands of sandbags used to keep the floodwaters at bay.
Five weeks ago, residents and others frantically built a 4-foot tall sandbag wall between the river and the city of about 750. In total, the half-mile wall contained about 500,000 sandbags.
Now, they remain a soaked and smelly reminder of the flood.
"It's a buzz when you're trying to save the town. There's excitement when everyone's pitching in," said Trey Perry, director of Service International, which is managing the cleanup. "Now that the water is down and gone, it's just a huge mess to clean up."
About 150 volunteers, who mostly came from AmeriCorps St. Louis, Chesterfield-based Service International and the United Way of Greater St. Louis, made significant progress Saturday in shrinking the pile of sandbags.
Other groups will also provide volunteers throughout the week. Members of the St. Charles First Assembly of God were scheduled to work on Sunday, Perry said, while The Home Depot will provide 100 crew members on Tuesday.
Perry estimates it will take about two weeks to remove most of the sandbags. Workers will dump out the sand and then throw away the bag. Other volunteers will load the sand into dump trucks, which will take the sand to a nearby vacant lot.
Adam Droesch, a volunteer from Spanish Lake, started working about 8 a.m. Saturday and said he'd return as long as bags remained.
"I've been drinking nothing but water all day," Droesch said. "And I've been sweating it all right out."
Besides the sandbags, volunteers have spent weeks clearing remaining floodwater, gutting flood-damaged homes and removing mold.
D.J. Dore, a team leader with AmeriCorps, said most of his organization's volunteers have been on site since July 11 and will stay until Aug. 13. He said the best part of the volunteers' efforts is that displaced residents can return home and others whose houses sustained less damage can get on with their lives.
"We're just doing what's best for the community and working together," he said. "We're focused on getting people back in their homes."