American Red Cross opens five shelters for flood victims

Thursday, March 20, 2008

By Wednesday evening, nearly 40 people had taken refuge in Zalma General Baptist Church after a series of rescues Tuesday.

The Zalma church is one of five shelters being run by the Southeast Missouri chapter of the American Red Cross to help flood victims. The others are in Delta, Jackson, Marble Hill and Piedmont.

The Rev. Keith Price said virtually all of Zalma's 80 residents helped evacuate residents of April Hills, an unincorporated Bollinger County community.

The real heroes, he said, were members of the Missouri Department of Conservation and Zalma's firefighters.

"The rescuers had to get off the gravel road, go four miles cross country, then they had to walk kids and babies down to 10 months out, and get them to the top of a hill on four-wheelers," he said. "The conservation pickups busted up a windshield and tore up a transmission in one of them. We met them with church buses. They had no shoes or socks on their feet because the mud sucked them off. We had 15 children ages 15 and under."

He said the rescue teams made additional seven-mile round trips to get parents and other adults from the area. Back at the church, the rescued people were warmed and fed.

Price said one conservation officer used his gloves to cover an infant's bare feet while another carried a baby under his coat to keep it warm.

"Everybody from the community just pitched in and saved these people," he said. "Every time I turn around, I hear another story. The state Department of Conservation people and the firemen are absolute heroes."

He said the flooding was so severe, a 20-minute trip required nearly three hours' worth of detours.

The flooding has made phone connections to Piedmont difficult; calls to that Red Cross shelter could not be connected.

Jamie Koehler, emergency services director for the Southeast Missouri chapter, supervised the Jackson shelter, but by 7 p.m. Wednesday, no one had arrived.

That was good, she said, because it meant people had found alternatives with family or friends. Overall, she said, 50 people stayed at the four other shelters Tuesday night, but she could not predict what Wednesday's numbers would be.

Anna and James Givens of Allenville and their two grandsons found refuge at the Delta Community Center late Wednesday afternoon, the only ones to do so.

They were evacuated from their town in the morning because of water from the Diversion Channel rising around their aging mobile home.

But unlike most of the others, the only place they have to stay is in the community center shelter.

James Givens worried about his pets he had to leave behind.

When they were awakened by neighbors at 4 a.m., water was lapping at the base of their mobile home, a 1967 model that was recently refloored. By 7:30 a.m., with water nearing their door, they left.

The lifelong Allenville residents recalled using a boat and abandoned rail line to get to and from their home after the 1993 flood.

"This is the worst water I have ever seen," James Givens said.

They expect their mobile home will be uninhabitable after this flood.

"We don't know what we are going to do," Anna Givens said.

Nine stayed in Delta overnight Tuesday to Wednesday, said Red Cross volunteer coordinator Dottie Lashley.

Koehler said people who need to check on loved ones should call 866-438-4636 or visit disastersafe.redcross.org.

Staff writers Rudi Keller and Lindy Bavolek contributed to this report.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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