VAN BUREN — In the scheme of things, it's not that big a deal.

But Lanae Flowers, 16, had the pleasure of wearing the baby blue dress she'd bought for the Van Buren High School prom for only a half hour Saturday night. And then her grandmother showed up. Floodwaters were threatening the family's home, and Flowers needed to get home to save what she could.

By the time Flowers had changed clothes to head home, the road was closed. She turned around and wound up back at prom, dressed to do battle with the rising waters.

Van Buren, population about 800, was inundated last weekend. The Current River crested at 37 feet — a full 8 feet above the record, set in 1904. The water ran through town and into about 185 houses, destroying 55 of them. The buildings that house 32 businesses were also affected. Public schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year, which should have ended May 12.

No one has died in the catastrophe.

Mayor Mike Hoerner, 32, dug trenches and cleaned ditches around houses to divert rainwater. The mayor, who also owns and operates a towing business, said he expected cleanup to take about two weeks. Then, the rebuilding will begin.

The sheriff's office is no more, and recovery efforts are housed in two RVs parked in front of the high school. Emergency Manager Curt Majors has been responsible for coordinating relief and recovery efforts by agencies, including the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the National Guard, the National Forest Service and Boone County Fire Protection District's Task Force 1.

Although the flood waters have receded, the mud has remained. The interiors of downtown churches, businesses and houses are coated with brown sludge. The organ at the First Baptist Church has been dismantled and covers of hymnals were torn off by the force of the water, which was powerful enough to lift the refrigerator in the church kitchen off the floor and wedge it between the wall and a warped countertop. When the water surged to its highest point inside the church, it took the measure of itself with a mark at 5 1/2 feet.

The Baptist church, where one of five congregations in town gather on Sundays, has a typical weekly attendance of about 100 people. This Sunday, the congregation will meet at 10:30 a.m., as always, Pastor Ron Robinson, 61, said. Instead of holding service in the church, the congregation will meet across the street in a partially finished activity center.

The church will have to be torn down, Robinson said. He had expected a new building in two years, but "God pushed the time schedule," he said.

Wednesday morning, David Hedspeth, a retired 37th Circuit Court judge, was already ripping sheet rock out of a rental home he owns in town. He described Van Buren as a tight-knit community and said family and friends were helping him salvage the home.

Hoerner was spending Wednesday working on getting help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said he expected a federal disaster declaration to come soon, which would allow Van Buren to receive temporary housing assistance from the agency.

Forgotten heels sit on the bleachers

Forgotten heels sit on the bleachers of Van Buren High School after students left prom the night of the flash floods. Prom goers were relocated to their after-prom event at the community center.

Although the rest of the school year has been canceled, high school graduation will take place May 12 as planned, district Superintendent Lyn Reed said. The ceremony will be on the front lawn of the high school, weather permitting.

Flowers and her classmates didn't miss much of the total prom experience, though they were escorted to the after-prom event by emergency responders including Carter County Sheriff Richard Stephens. He had ruled the roads too dangerous to drive, and the students were locked in for the night.

Flowers didn't get much sleep, worrying about her cat, Chance. The cat was fine, and the next morning, she was out helping to clean up a flooded gas station and moving the family's belongings into her grandmother's house.

"I'm only a sophomore," she said. "I've got two more years to go to prom."

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed

  • Assistant City Editor. Undergraduate studying investigative journalism. Reach me at shanersanderson@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

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