Camcorder-Toting `Rubberneckers' Come to Gawk at - and Film - the Flood

THE great flood of '93 has become a chance for many Americans to capture history on home videotape. From flood waters near the base of the St. Louis arch to flooded Illinois towns, American tourists armed with camcorders appear to have arrived here in droves.

"I've seen more camcorders here than I've seen in my entire life," Illinois National Guardsman Mark Konopasek said as he fought to keep tourists away from flooded sections of downtown Alton, Ill., earlier this week.

Guardsman Konopasek, who has been stationed in Alton for the last 3 1/2 weeks, said he saw a significant increase in the number of tourists arriving in Alton after flooding worsened Sunday and the town's downtown area and water-treatment plant were flooded.

Hundreds of people, many of them carrying camcorders, could be seen gathering along police lines in Alton late into the evening Sunday. "I've even told some people that `This flood is not your home entertainment,' " Konopasek said.

Other National Guardsmen and city volunteers working police lines confirmed the increase in tourists.

City officials who had to relocate their flood-control headquarters after it was flooded said that when they arrived at their new headquarters all of the parking spaces had been taken by tourists.

National Guardsmen have been positioned on top of levees in the area to watch for potential leaks and to prevent tourists from climbing up and down the levees and weakening them. City officials said a National Guard Military Police unit has been dispatched to Alton to help with the growing problem of traffic control.

"It kind of hurts that people can actually find it amusing," 19-year-old flood victim Traci Simpson said. Her house is one of dozens of Grafton, Ill., homes and businesses flooded last month that are still underwater. She has moved in with relatives, and her father has been forced to rent an apartment.

"My house is demolished. You have so many memories in a house - Christmas, things like that. You could get a new one, but it's just not the same," she said.

With donations pouring in from all over the country and many tourists offering to lend a hand, few local residents are complaining about the "rubberneckers," as one resident jokingly referred to them.

Marti Schoaake, a St. Louis resident whose daughter is visiting her from Philadelphia this week, summed up the attraction of the flood.

"This is history. This is nature thwarting what man has been trying to do," she said as her daughter looked on and nodded in agreement, "the power of it is just awesome."

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