DONIPHAN — This small town of around 2,000 residents in south Missouri is cleaning up after severe flooding on Sunday and Monday. The water damaged houses, local businesses, a church and city hall, where the police and fire stations are located.
Local authorities on Wednesday were continuing to assess the damage.
Most days during warmer months, the Current River is the ideal destination for a leisurely canoe trip. But severe rain over the weekend forced the river out of its banks, over the Highway 160 bridge and into the town. The bridge had reopened by Wednesday, but much of the town remained in ruins.
The Current River swelled higher than ever overnight Sunday and Monday, reaching a crest of 33.13 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record of 26.8 feet was set in 1904. The water level Wednesday was around 10 feet, which is 3 feet below flood stage.
City hall lost phone service Monday as water entered the building. Doniphan Police Chief Mark Rodgers said town administrators will have to decide whether to restore the building, which is only a couple of blocks from the river.
“It seems like once it starts flooding it is always going to flood,” Rodgers said. “It takes a lot of time and effort to put it back the way it was.”
A steady stream of residents was going to the Ripley County Public Health Center to get booster shots to protect against tetanus and other infectious diseases flood water can bring. About 100 had come since Monday, and more were expected, center administrator Jan Morrow said.
Lisa Jamison got a call from the Doniphan Police Department at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday morning telling her that her parents' business, Fred's Store, near the Ripley County Courthouse, was in danger.
The family and staff had two hours to shift the store's goods higher, but it wasn’t enough. At 11 a.m., Jamison, who manages the business, switched off electricity and ordered staff to leave the store as water was coming. Before the day was over, the water had reached the building's ceiling.
It would be Tuesday before the water receded enough to allow Jamison inside. It was the third time the store had flooded since it opened in 1975. But it was “never this big,” Jamison said.
“We lost everything,” she said, estimating the damage at $650,000 to $700,000.
“I can’t feel anything. It’s nature. There is nothing you can do about it. (I) hope it wouldn’t happen again, that’s all you do.”
The First Church of God building was almost entirely under water during the peak of the flooding. Parishioners rescued as many belongings as they could before the water reached the church's attic. They were able to get back inside of the church only after the water level dropped on Tuesday afternoon.
Rusty Leroux, a member of a church, said he was helping move stuff out of the sanctuary as the river rose. When time ran out, he and some others went up the street and watched the Current flood their church.
Leroux said he felt overwhelmed, sad and shocked.
“You couldn’t do anything, other than just watch the water rise, you know,” Leroux said.
The congregation plans on having services at 8:30 a.m. at the West Point Pentecostal Church on Sunday, First Church of God pastor Larry Earl said.
Meanwhile, the United States Coast Guard arrived Tuesday from West Virginia to check on people and houses along the banks of the Current. Traveling in motorboats, pairs of Coast Guard officers knocked on the doors of summer cabins and houses that were inaccessible by land.
Jason Thorne, who came back from a half-day mission on Wednesday, said his team traveled around 20 miles on the river, visiting 50 houses. In about half of them, he said, they found people inside making repairs and salvaging belongings from the water.
A couple of houses were knocked completely off their foundations, Thorne said.
Even as the cleanup was getting underway, Doniphan residents remained on edge as the National Weather Service was forecasting more rain Thursday and into Friday morning. A flood warning remained in place until Saturday night, and a flash flood watch was in effect until Friday.