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Volunteers rush to keep Missouri river towns dry as more flooding looms

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Volunteers rush to keep Missouri river towns dry as more flooding looms

ROCHEPORT — With dirt caked into her jeans, Lysa Holmes grabbed another bag full of sand and tied it shut. As she worked, other volunteers carried the newly tied sandbags away, walking past a flooded basketball court and picnic area.

Volunteers from Rocheport and Columbia form an assembly line across Columbia Street

Volunteers from Rocheport and Columbia form an assembly line Wednesday across Columbia Street in Rocheport as they work together to form a sandbag barrier along the Katy Trail. The Missouri River is expected to rise over the next couple days, according to forecasts.

“I have to wear a plastic ankle brace, and I knew I couldn’t shovel or move the bags, but I’ve tied quite a few,” Holmes said with a laugh.

Volunteer Terry Walker lifts sandbags from a tractor bucket

Volunteer Caleb Kaelen lifts sandbags from a truck for the wall that he and others are building Wednesday along the Katy Trail in Rocheport.

She said she had never tied bags before, but as a 14-year resident of the area, she had plenty of reasons to help fight a flood.

“That’s my favorite little restaurant down there,” Holmes said, nodding to the town’s iconic Meriwether Café on First Street as she tied a new bag. “I don’t want it flooded.”

Holmes was among at least 50 volunteers on hand Wednesday building barricades of sandbags to slow the rising floodwater edging the town. Rocheport Alderman Conrad Yates said the town is expecting its fifth-highest flood level ever within the next 24 hours.

A skid steer and a tractor wait to be unloaded by volunteers and residents

A skid steer and a tractor wait to be unloaded by volunteers and residents

A skid steer and a tractor wait to be unloaded by volunteers and residents Wednesday along the Katy Trail in Rocheport. The wall started being made in the morning and continued to lengthen along the the trail throughout the rest of the day.

“It really is historic,” Holmes said. “There have been other times we’ve sandbagged, but ’93 is the last time it was this bad.”

The efforts in Rocheport reflect a statewide push to combat continued flooding in Missouri. On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency with the expectation that river levels will rise again this weekend.

Adam Pulley, communications manager for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the key concerns are places like Rocheport, Boonville and Hermann along the Missouri River.

“We just strongly encourage everyone to not go into any standing water, stay in the know as much as you can and drive safe as we get more rain,” Pulley said.

Conrad Yates, right, looks over his shoulder at the vehicles following him

Conrad Yates, right, looks over his shoulder at the vehicles following him as Scott Fines, of Columbia, looks at the growing pile of sandbags. “I heard they needed some help,” Fines said when he heard about the sandbagging efforts. Citizens from Columbia and the Rocheport area volunteered to help place sandbags Wednesday along the Katy Trail.

The Missouri River is expected to crest Friday morning in Boonville and Jefferson City, according to the National Weather Service.

A volunteer holds a bag as sand is poured into a traffic cone

A volunteer holds a bag as sand is poured into a traffic cone they transformed into a funnel Wednesday in Rocheport. The volunteers made two sandbag filling stations with the cones placed within the rungs of a ladder.

Volunteer Caleb Kaelen lifts sandbags from a truck for the wall

Volunteer Caleb Kaelen lifts sandbags from a truck for the wall that he and others are building Wednesday along the Katy Trail in Rocheport. Volunteers said they were anticipating heavy rains Wednesday night and weren’t sure how long the sandbagging would continue.Volunteer Terry Walker lifts sandbags from a tractor bucket as part of an assembly line of other volunteers as they build the flood barrier Wednesday.

Over 55 miles of the Katy Trail from Mokane to Rocheport have already been temporarily closed because of flooding.

“We anticipate that it’ll top the Katy Trail down here as well,” Yates said during a brief break from the sandbagging operation.

Volunteers came from across the state to pitch in Wednesday. Linda Johnson said she was prompted by her daughter after she saw a notice on Facebook about the effort.

“I said, ‘I don’t know how much help I’ll be, but I could probably tie bags or something. Let’s go!,” said Johnson, who came from Lee’s Summit on Wednesday morning.

Severe weather continued Wednesday night with widespread tornado watches and warnings and a confirmed tornado spotted near Hallsville at 9:43 p.m. Hail up to an inch in diameter was also observed in the area.Holmes said the widespread care for the community in Rocheport is what has helped it survive for so long.

“My husband said a little while ago, ‘If the whole world were like this, wouldn’t we all be better off?’,” Holmes said.

  • Summer 2019 reporter and assistant city editor. Reach me by email at tncoulter@mail.missouri.edu or on Twitter at @tomcoulter_

  • Staff Photographer summer 2019 Photojournalism major with a minor in Economics Reach me at seamank7@gmail.com or in the newsroom at (573) 882-1690


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