Aid Depot Enables People To Stay Put During Flood
St. Louis-area Salvation Army outpost acts as canteen, social center
WEST ALTON, MO. — KAREN DICKSON can't believe her eyes. After almost four weeks, the water keeps rising.
She and her husband, Ken, thought they had done everything right. They bought their property in 1973 after the "Great Flood." The land hadn't been flooded. In 1976, they finished their home, the foundation sitting four feet above the 1973 flood mark.
"Knowing that when you've worked so hard, you feel like you've beat it," Ms. Dickson says with a sigh, "and you hear there is going to be another crest, and you feel like you can't go on."
At present, the couple is ankle deep in water on the second story of their tri-level home. They have no running water, electricity, or working toilet, and can run the generator only long enough to keep food in the freezer from spoiling. The only means of communication they have is via cellular phone or motorized canoe. It is a 30-minute trip to shore.
Without the Salvation Army aid station, her family wouldn't be able to stay in their home. Aid station is lifeline
Highway 67 is about the only dry land left here. Halfway across the flood plain sits the only aid station servicing thousands of acres of flooded farmland in St. Charles County. The station is a feeding center, marina, Coast Guard staging area, information and supply depot, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contact. For the few families still living on the flood plain, it is a lifeline. Many volunteers at the station, run by the St. Louis Harbor Lights Program, are ex-addicts, the formerly h omeless, and others.
"I serve 300 to 400 meals a day and go through 150 five-pound bags of ice a day trying to make sure we have a cold soda to offer someone when they come in," says Brian Allen, a Salvation Army corrections-department employee in Chicago. Before power was turned off and most residents evacuated, the canteen served 1,000 meals daily.
A pickup truck stops by the road, and Dennis Belangee unloads canned goods for the station. "I still have my job and my home," he says. "This is something I can do to help."
Many people stop at the station to donate supplies, including water and pet food. Ross Perot filmed a flood-relief TV commercial for the Salvation Army when he toured 2-1/2 weeks ago.
From sunup to sundown, the Coast Guard helps people pull boats ashore, ferry residents to visit loved ones still toughing it out, or check on area homes. The Coast Guard patrols, marking signs and other objects, and brings water and fuel to those who can't make it to the station.
A bulletin board hangs under the red and yellow awning. Posted are notices and phone numbers for everything from the humane society to new addresses of neighbors forced to leave.
Teresa Stanfield rocks her daughter's stroller as she stares at the water. She and her husband were renting their home with their two children. Now the owner hopes that the government buys him out. The Stanfields are looking for a new home.
Mrs. Stanfield's son, Mark, sits on a picnic table and cries. He doesn't understand why he can't go with his father to check on the house. He does not comprehend that the water reaches to his home and beyond.
"[The rain] just doesn't stop, and that brings tears to my eyes," she says. "I don't mind all the TV and newspaper people here. What I can't stand is the tourists." Tourists a problem
They are a big problem for St. Charles County. Deputy sheriff Michael Yarborough vows to write tickets to tourists who stop to gawk at the flood scene. "It makes it hard to get rescue vehicles into the area. They cause accidents," he says.
For some, there is no returning to the area - even after the water is gone. "Hearing people who have lived in town forever, 30 to 40 years, and respected members of the community, saying that they aren't coming back," Karen Dickson says sadly, "That's the hardest thing."