FOLLOWING last summer's historic flooding, the reservoir of volunteer spirit here in the Midwest is running low.
Three weeks after the Meramec River, on April 4, inundated 1,000 homes in Valley Park, Mo., the cleanup effort is taking place with few volunteers. National publicity during the soggy summer of 1993 brought a more benevolent flood of help from around the United States.
``About 80 percent of the volunteers came from out of state,'' says Dennis Murphy, a community restoration coordinator with the Salvation Army. Some families devoted their summer vacations to helping flood victims. School and church groups were free for the summer and brought large numbers of energetic volunteers.
``This year it's more isolated in a few areas, and people think the need for volunteers is not as great,'' Mr. Murphy says. ``But you're still talking about thousands of people that have been displaced and now need help getting back into their homes.''
The Salvation Army's initial field teams this spring consisted of only a handful of people. By last weekend, the volunteer force in Valley Park had expanded to about 30 workers.
Despite the fact that finals are just around the corner, Washington University students Matt Mordini and Jeremy Wilkins showed up to help last Saturday. ``We usually blow off a Saturday anyway,'' Mr. Wilkins said after dumping a destroyed water heater into a pile of debris.
Some volunteers were unable to help last summer and wanted to take the opportunity this time. ``It's just been a while since I did some good for somebody,'' says volunteer Rob Lee. The low turnout this spring may indicate compassion fatigue in a region that has been hearing flood stories for nearly a year. Some people say that buying or renting a home in the flood plain is simply asking for trouble. It's time to stop enabling people to move back into flood-prone homes, they argue.
Pearl Sprock, head of the volunteer committee at Sacred Heart Church in Valley Park, disagrees. ``I wouldn't give up for anything,'' she says. The church provided shelter to as many as 50 families immediately after the recent flood. About 60 people are still showing up for meals.
Pam Moynihan, who has been flooded out of her home four times in the past seven months, looks through a pile of donated clothes at the church, collecting items for her four children. ``This is four times for me, and I quit,'' she says. ``I'm going to find me a hill in the country, and I'm going to get on it. I'm tired of my kids losing stuff.''
Throughout Valley Park, the streets are lined with small mountains of trash. Ruined refrigerators, stoves, and televisions stand abandoned on sidewalks, surrounded by still-wet carpets and warped cabinets. City workers, in bulldozers and trucks, haul away whatever was left in the path of the rapidly rising river.
Daniel and Donna Adams evacuated their home when water edged into the yard. Like many of their neighbors, they are now living in a camper parked in the mud-covered driveway. ``That's our refugee home right now,'' Mr. Adams says.
He figures it will be about three months before the family moves back into their home. And that's with him working at a demanding pace: Rising at 5 a.m. to go to work, and spending every evening and weekend rebuilding the house.
Adams says he would love to gather his wife and two young boys and walk away from all this. ``But we owe on a mortgage and we can't unload it,'' he says. ``Nobody would buy this house now. There are probably 100 just like it for sale here.''
The only alternative is to rebuild with the help of flood insurance and the kindness of family, friends, and strangers. The Salvation Army came by soon after the water receded and offered a few volunteer hands. ``They've helped a lot with the really nasty work,'' Adams says.
After four feet of water stood in the house for three days, the thick layer of mud had to be washed out and the floors pulled up. Thoroughly soaked drywall was removed, along with the insulation and electrical wiring.
``It was hard to come back. This is encouraging to get it cleaned up this much,'' says Adams as he looks around at the exposed framing throughout the house. ``We're down to almost new construction now. It would have been easier to build a new house.''
Next door, Adams's parents, Roy and Martha Adams, are also living in a camper and looking to volunteers for help in rebuilding. ``It used to be a pretty house,'' The elder Mrs. Adams says of the home they have lived in for 35 years: ``I'm a real fussy housekeeper, and this sort of throws me for a loop.''