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St. Louis Suburb Begins Flood Cleanup; It Could Take Awhile


It's almost as if you are living on some other planet. That is how Missouri Governor Jay Nixon described the devastation he was looking at over the weekend in the city of Eureka. It is one of the communities along the Mississippi River that were literally underwater after deadly flooding. St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum went to visit as well.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: I'm standing here at South Central Avenue in Eureka, Mo. It wasn't that long ago that this commercial thoroughfare was swamped by historic flooding. But as the rain stopped and the rivers receded, the residents of this St. Louis suburb are focused squarely on cleaning up.


ROSENBAUM: Over the weekend, President Obama granted Missouri's request for federal emergency relief. And residents around St. Louis spent their time tearing down soggy drywall and banging out ruined floorboards. Scores of volunteers helped spruce up Charles Gillick's real estate office, a gesture that the longtime business owner says speaks volumes about Eureka.

CHARLES GILLICK: We always knew it was great because our children all went to school here. But we had no idea how truly great it was until you have a disaster.

ROSENBAUM: At the Eureka Pacific Elks Lodge, volunteers are chomping down on lunch amid their repair work. Lisa Cushing, who serves as the head of the lodge, says the meal is a thank you to people who are willing to help even when the flooding was at its worst last week.

LISA CUSHING: We weren't sure that it was going to hit as hard as it was. And all of a sudden, they're telling them that morning, you guys are going to get hit hard. They had people down there bagging sand and getting people taken care of. People were stepping up to the plate, you know, coming out of the woodwork.

ROSENBAUM: Still, it could be weeks or even months until business owners and homeowners are back to square one. At Eureka's Central Baptist Church, Jessica Flannery is picking up donated supplies to help clean up her home in nearby Pacific. She says the past few days have been difficult and her troubles aren't over.

JESSICA FLANNERY: We haven't been home in a week. And it's just - it's hard because nobody expected this. Nobody really thought that this is how high it was going to get. And they kept changing it. And it was 29 feet and then 32 feet and 33 feet and 35 feet. And we just weren't able to prepare.

ROSENBAUM: With the waters now receding, some want this flood to shift how local policymakers think. Bob Criss is a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Criss has been critical of how levees were erected around St. Louis to protect floodplain developments.

BOB CRISS: This first thing we need to do is recognize that we have a problem. And we haven't done that in the St. Louis area. We're amplifying flooding and amplifying flood damages by what we are doing.

ROSENBAUM: Whether these development patterns change is an open question, especially since some flood-affected towns grew dramatically over the past few decades. For now, Eureka business owner Brad Beebe says many people are focused on the cleanup task at hand.

BRAD BEEBE: Hopefully, you know, the guys who are a lot smarter and understand, you know, the various engineering needs of the area will explore any solutions that are possible that are reasonable for us. But the reality of it is, I think, is this is a very - it's a different occurrence. It hasn't happened in 40 years. It may happen again, I'm sure, because that's just weather cycles that happen. But, no, I think we're going to recover problem.

ROSENBAUM: So for now, people like Beebe will help feed and coordinate volunteers - people that will help communities wounded by water. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.

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