Lesterville residents aid Shut-Ins family

Friday, December 16, 2005

Residents of Lesterville, Mo., on Thursday came to the aid of the family swept out of their beds the day before by a 1-billion-gallon torrent pouring down the side of Proffit Mountain.

An account for Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park superintendent Jerry Toops, his wife and three children was established at a local bank. State parks employees also began pitching in, setting up an internal fund at division headquarters in Jefferson City.

Meanwhile, state inspectors examining the breach in the AmerenUE reservoir were dismayed to discover that the failed wall of the 90-foot-deep reservoir was constructed of rock and soil, not granite as they had believed.

Toops, his wife, Lisa, and their three children, Tanner, 5, Tara, 3, and Tucker, 7 months, were washed hundreds of yards in a 5-million-ton onslaught of water from the failed reservoir.

The Toopses, their parents and other relatives were keeping vigil Thursday near their seriously injured children at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis. Tara and Tucker were listed in serious condition Thursday afternoon, hospital spokesman Bob Davidson said, while Tanner remained in critical condition.

"Right now what those children need is a good medical care and a lot of prayer," Davidson said. "They are getting both of those things here."

The Lesterville account for the family is at Sun Security Bank, said Sue Black, a bank employee. "Everybody has been praying for them and keeping them in their thoughts," she said.

Material goods are being collected at the Lesterville school building. The family's home was erased, district superintendent Earlene Fox said, and they lost all their possessions.

The school has been inundated with calls from people wanting to help, Fox said. "Some people wanted to send clothes and Christmas presents," she said. "We will make sure it gets to them."

At the state parks division, employees are being asked to limit donations to cash, spokeswoman Sue Holst said. The Toops family can best decide what they need, she said.

"We are trying to make sure we can do everything to make this terrible event as easy for him as possible," Holst said. "We have been overwhelmed by people offering to help, which is very gratifying."

Prior to taking the post at Johnson's Shut-Ins, Toops was superintendent of the Big Oak Tree State Park in East Prairie, Mo., Holst said. He was due to leave Johnson's Shut-Ins sometime in January for a job as assistant supervisor of the Ozarks District, she said.

The parks division is part of the Department of Natural Resources. That agency's Dam and Reservoir Safety Program sent inspectors to the site of the reservoir breach. The storage basin that failed was part of a hydroelectric plant operated by AmerenUE.

AmerenUE officials said Wednesday that they believed an automatic sensor failed to shut off water being pumped up the mountain from a lake on the Black River. Water was typically pumped up the mountain at night during periods of low electricity usage, then released during the day through a 7,000-foot tunnel to produce up to 440 megawatts of power to handle peak loads.

The basin wall failed about 5:30 a.m. "I thought it was just a hollowed out bowl, and you had granite around the thing -- but that's not the case with the side that failed," said James Alexander, director of the dam safety program.

As water washed over top of the bowl, it eroded the soil and rock, weakening the structure until it failed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Want to help?

Donations of money can be sent to Sun Security Bank, c/o Sue Black, P.O. Box 231, Lesterville, Mo. 63654. Mark the envelopes "Toops Family."

People wishing to donate clothing, household goods and Christmas gifts can send them to the Lesterville Public Schools, P.O. Box 120, Lesterville, Mo. 63654. Mark the packages "Toops Donations."

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