The Martins’ medications came to their front door, but then water surrounded their home.

The pill bottles were stuffed in the front pocket of a miniature backpack, one of the few dry items Leah Martin owns now after the Missouri River flooded their home May 22 near Mokane and forced the Martins, their daughter and her son into a shelter.

The flooding interrupted their supply. Robert Martin, 71, is supposed to take insulin twice a day. He had none for about a week.

Although the floodwaters have started to recede, the Martins continue to deal with the lasting effects. The family was among the last people in Red Cross shelters in mid-Missouri (the organization closed its last shelter in the area Saturday), and they might be without a permanent home for a good while longer.

The Martins’ homes since 2015 — a 1986 Pace Arrow motorhome, a 32-foot trailer and a structure FEMA put there after the 1993 flood, where their daughter, Rebe, and her son, Cameron, lived — were destroyed, Leah, 55, said. The Arrow is a couple of feet off the ground, and, at one point, the water inside was up to the handles on the closets, she said.

“It ain’t anything you want to salvage,” she said of her homes, “just take it out on the highway somewhere and do the wrecking ball.”

Retired and on a fixed income, the Martins haven’t been able to find a place they can afford, she said.

They’ll get a place “as soon as I can rub two pennies together and make lightning,” Leah said.

Senior housing is a nonstarter. That would leave Rebe, 36, and Cameron, 9, alone.

Rebe has applied for Section 8 housing, but she’s on a waiting list, she said.

“It’s all up in the air,” she said.

Last week, Leah said she spoke with a representative from FEMA who said the federal agency could offer assistance after it inspects their property.

Rebe said she’s hoping they could get two new structures from FEMA.

A woman they know in Mokane, Melissa Stieferman, is trying to find them a used trailer, but the search hasn’t produced any leads.

“It’s a long haul,” she said of the Martins’ housing search. “They might be displaced all summer.”

‘No place to rent’

Others who spent time in the shelters were more successful.

Drew Ritter, 36, said she spent about $900 on motels in the wake of the flooding. She spent several days in the Boonville shelter before moving into a rental Friday, she said.

Brandon Blackwell, 31, of Franklin had 24 hours notice to move everything out of his three-bedroom rental home before it flooded. He, his fiancée and his two kids ended up at the Boonville shelter.

Blackwell said motels were charging $50 a night. If he spent money on that, he thought, he wouldn’t be able to afford rent if he found a place.

He had a list of landlords, and he said he called them for weeks. But the search proved fruitless.

“There was no place to rent,” he said.

After the Boonville shelter closed Saturday, the family moved into an apartment in Fayette, he said.

He found out last week that Central Missouri Community Action had located a place for him and his family. The organization got federal funding to pay for a trailer, he said. They move in Friday, he said.

Blackwell said he’s luckier than most. He doesn’t own a home, and his old landlord let him break his lease. Once he finds a new permanent place to live, he no longer has to deal with the consequences of the flood.

“Once I find a place to live,” he said, “it’s over for me.”

The Martins

The Martins live just outside Mokane, near the corner of Missouri 94 and Route C. The land was their “little patch of heaven,” Leah said.

Robert receives $749 in Social Security benefits a month, and Leah receives $892. They pay $200 a month for the land, they said.

Their first warning something bad might happen came on the afternoon of May 22. Men drove up and tied down the propane tank on their property, they said.

“That was unusual,” Rebe said.

While the family was relaxing, watching TV, a Red Cross volunteer arrived around 5:30 p.m. and told them they had to leave — immediately, they said.

Leah placed family photos inside cabinets near the ceiling and put her dogs inside the Arrow, leaving food and water for them. She didn’t have time to find them another place, and Red Cross shelters don’t allow pets.

There wasn’t time for much else, and the family wasn’t sure how damaging the flood would be. At the time, Rebe said, they thought they’d be back home in a week or so.

The family hopped in their white pickup truck and headed to Leah’s sister’s home in Louisiana, Missouri, a town on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis that was also dealing with severe flooding. After a few days, they headed back to mid-Missouri to a shelter in Jefferson City.

They learned that at least one family member had to watch what remained of their belongings at all times, Leah said. Rebe said her phone was stolen at the shelter.

Back in Mokane, people passing by in the water heard dogs barking in the Martins’ homes. Word reached Stieferman.

She said the sheriff’s office and the local humane society couldn’t do anything about the dogs. So, in the early morning of June 5, she, her husband and another man navigated a small, flat-bottom boat about a half-mile from the center of Mokane to the Martins’ property.

That morning, the Mokane levee broke, sending more water inland. When the rescue party arrived at the homes, the water was up to the windows, Stieferman said. The propane tank floated around.

In the rushing current, they held the boat against the trailer, trying to keep it steady so Stieferman’s husband could crawl through the window to get the Martins’ four dogs. He popped the screens aside and went in.

One dog, a beagle named Blue, was on a bed, the water lapping its edges, Stieferman said.

After the rescue, a neighbor connected Leah Martin and Stieferman, who still has the family’s dogs. The family checks on them regularly.

On June 11, the Jefferson City shelter closed, and the Martins were moved to one in Russellville, an hour from Mokane. But Leah recognized the shelter environment and moving around wasn’t great for their health.

The next day, she visited her doctor in Fulton, returning to the shelter with a note.

“Both Robert and Leah have serious long-term health conditions in addition to serious acute illnesses,” the note, which Leah shared, read. “Both have been seen recently in the emergency department and have follow up with several providers. They would greatly benefit from having hotel accommodations so that they can rest well.”

“We can’t be place to place to place,” Leah said.

The Red Cross gave them a card preloaded with $200, and the Martins moved into a motel in Fulton. The card covered three days, until this past Friday, according to a bill the couple shared.

The shelter in Russellville closed the same day, and the Boonville one closed the following day, leaving no shelters left open in mid-Missouri.

Desperate, Leah tried to figure out what to do next. Then, she remembered seeing something about the Central Missouri Community Action’s Fulton office.

On Friday, she and Robert drove there.

“That woman worked miracles,” Leah said of the caseworker.

CMCA set the Martins up at a student-housing unit owned by Westminster College. They moved in Saturday. Another local organization lent them a broom and detergent.

The lease ends July 14. They haven’t figured out where they’ll live after that.

Leah said she’s committed to moving back to her property, even though she doesn’t trust the well water her family relied on. She wants to get it tested.

Still, she said, it could have been worse.

“I’m glad I didn’t wake up swimming,” she said. “I’m keeping the land, and I’m going to live on it.”

Supervising editor is Ruby L. Bailey

  • Assistant City Editor, shc7vc@mail.missouri.edu

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