Bollinger County 'just a mess'

Thursday, March 20, 2008

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- Bollinger County officials are still trying to grasp the scope of damage from the floods, but it's difficult.

"You can't get there from here" was a refrain. A 15-minute trip to Zalma took nearly three hours and required detours through Jackson or Sikeston. Gravel county roads are in ruins; many small bridges have been destroyed.

Leo McElrath, chief deputy of the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department, said Wednesday afternoon he hoped everyone was rescued from the flooding.

A few blocks away, at Marble Hill's city hall, Jim Bollinger did double duty as fire chief and the county's emergency operations director, coordinating operations with 11 members of the 1140th Engineer Battalion of the National Guard. The Guardsmen were checking on elderly and ill people and helping the sheriff's department recover vehicles from fields and streams.

Among the rescued: A couple whose truck was submerged near Rock Cut Road, near Woodland School, according to Calvin Troxell, Marble Hill's assistant fire chief, assistant county coroner and emergency operations director.

"They only had about a foot of airspace," he said.

Troxell recovered the body of Thurman Shelton Jr., 69, of Jackson, who died after his pickup truck was swept into Crooked Creek on Tuesday.

Peggy Sloatman's son, Tim Sloatman, was rescued Wednesday morning from his Castor River cabin. A mechanic, he'd been through several floods without problems and didn't want to stop working on several cars on his property. When his cell phone stopped working Tuesday night, Sloatman's family sounded alarms.

"None of us got any sleep last night," Peggy Sloatman said.

His girlfriend attempted to rescue him by boat, but the water was too swift and too deep, his mother said. Conservation officers rescued him Wednesday morning.

On Presnell Street, Rodney Conrad and friend Claude Vance watched an AmerenUE crew remove the gas meter and regulator from Conrad's mother's home. Conrad had taken his mother to higher ground Tuesday, before the water reached a crisis stage.

"The water came up too fast," Vance said. The men had seen big rigs and large campers swamped near the Castor River. They'd seen rivers run over bridges.

"It's a mess. Just a mess," Conrad said.

Gary Shrum, city administrator for Marble Hill, paused in the kitchen of city hall, where a table was loaded with food dropped off for emergency workers.

Shrum knows the community will recover, but worries about the loss of revenue from businesses in the flood plain. The city's library was severely damaged, though he said a thorough assessment has not yet been made.

The powerful water pulled trees and limbs, broken off during February's ice storms, into piles that damaged whatever they hit and scoured the gravel off county roads, leaving behind potholes, Troxell said, "big enough to stop a truck."

He said the county will ask for more National Guard help, including trucks to help fix the roads.

Staff writer Bridget DiCosmo contributed to this report.

335-6611, extension 127

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