Authorities go on rescue missions in Poplar Bluff area

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 ~ Updated 12:40 PM
A pickup truck and armored delivery vehicle sit stranded in floodwaters from the Black River south of Poplar Bluff, Mo., Monday, April 25, 2011, along Highway 53. (AP Photo/Daily American Republic, Paul Davis)

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Nearly 60 Poplar Bluff, Mo., residents had to be rescued Monday night after heavy rainfall flooded city streets. Earlier rainfall prompted rescues throughout the day, including that of a Malden, Mo., man who was trapped in his submerged truck on Highway 53.

"After the storm went through at 7 p.m., within an hour and 38 minutes, the (Poplar Bluff) Police Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol and Poplar Bluff Fire Department conducted 59 water rescues, both of houses and vehicles," explained police Deputy Chief Jeff Rolland.

The storm, he said, produced 5 inches of rain, which caused "flash flooding in areas that typically do not flash flood."

Rolland said the area behind First Midwest Bank, at the intersection of Westwood and Maud Street, is not a low-lying area; however, it flooded Monday night.

As a reference point, Rolland said, the Highway Patrol was launching boats from the Hastings parking lot in the Sycamore Plaza.

Utilizing three boats, the fire department did about 33 rescues Monday night, with police officers picking up the individuals and transporting them to safety, said Battalion Chief Carl Williams.

Most of those rescues, Williams said, were in the Grand and Relief areas near Hillcrest Park.

"The water was so high" in the Hillcrest area, firefighters had trouble pulling the evacuees in the unmotorized boats, said Williams. "The water was too high for us to do it.

"We were dragging the boats in 4 to 5 feet of water. ... The water gets so high you can't pull the boats anymore."

The people in this area, Williams said, had been urged to leave earlier in the day, but chose to stay.

"We did some (rescues) on International and Commerce," near the Service Industrial Park off of Ditch Road, Williams said. "Several there said they were going to stay in their homes."

Firefighters, Williams said, also went back into the south end to check the area east of Ditch Road, which had been evacuated earlier in the day.

"Dozens of people were evacuated from South Poplar Bluff" throughout the day Monday, said police Lt. Dave Sutton. "I don't think we have a count of how many had to be taken out with police and fire vehicles."

The evacuation of South Poplar Bluff, Sutton said, went quickly and smoothly. "I believe everyone in the affected area (left), except (for) one or two who chose to stay behind."

Those that stayed, "we went back to them to request they move," Williams said. "Some of them said they were going to stay."

The last crew, he said, returned to the fire department at about 2:30 a.m. today.

Butler County Firefighters had about 15 water rescues Monday night, with an additional one early this morning, said Chief Bob Fredwell.

Thirteen people, three dogs and a parakeet were among those rescued by county firefighters and Missouri Department of Conservation Agent Eric Heuring of Dunklin County, according to Candice Davis, conservation department spokesman.

Heuring, who operated the boat while firefighters went into the homes, was one of five agents working in the flooded areas Butler County Monday night, she said.

Earlier in the day Monday, Fredwell said, firefighters had conducted at least 40 rescues, including some in the areas of County Road 608, County Road 611, Highway 142 and Coon Island "before it got so deep we couldn't get in there anymore."

The Highway Patrol and it's Water Division did a total of eight water rescues Monday, including two on Highway 53, between Poplar Bluff and Qulin, Mo., according to Trooper Clark Parrott, Troop E's public information officer.

After 9 a.m. Monday, Cpl. Terry Richardson with the patrol's Water Division, said they received a report of 42-year-old Malden man's small pickup being washed off Highway 53.

Troopers J.T. Wilson and Jason Spain initially responded and requested additional assistance from Richardson and Trooper Brian Arnold after finding "2 to 3 foot rollers coming over the road. (The water) was very swift and very turbulent," Richardson said.

After launching their boats, Richardson said, the truck was approached and the driver was found to be in chest deep water and still in his seat belt.

Richardson said the man was unable to unfasten his seat belt, which had to be cut by Arnold, who pulled from him the truck into the boat. A life jacket was then put on the man, who was transported to safety and picked up by his father, he said.

"Signs of hypothermia were appearing in this individual," Richardson said. "His legs would not work because he was so cold."

Richardson believes the man probably would have drowned had they not been able to get to him when they did.

Sometime after the Malden man's rescue, an airplane pilot reported seeing a van being swept off the roadway in the same place as the pickup, Richardson said.

The Highway Patrol, along with Butler County Fire Department, responded and found the van nosed into the ditch, Richardson said.

The driver, Richardson said, was able to climb into the back of the van and open the doors.

Butler County firefighters, Richardson said, were able to drive their tanker up to the rear of the van.

"(The van driver) stepped right onto the bumper," Richardson said. "That was a textbook rescue if you can call it that."

During the last 24 hours, Butler County Sheriff Mark Dobbs, said his department also has been inundated by water rescues and transporting stranded individuals from their vehicles. He said his department is working "pretty much hand-in-hand with the fire department."

"We worked well into the morning last night doing water rescues and well-being checks for people who couldn't make contact with loved ones," Dobbs said. "Of course, we face a lot of challenges because there are so many areas we can't really get to."

Fredwell said he is looking into ways to get to the residents at Coon Island, which is surrounded by water at this time. "We can't get to them; we had the same problem the last time" in 2008, he said.

Highway Patrol personnel also have been assisting emergency medical services personnel in getting where they need to go, according to Trooper Dave Nelson with the patrol's Water Division.

This morning, Nelson said, troopers Cole Chatman and Alex Lacey were escorting an ambulance and trying to find a place to launch a boat to take emergency medical service personnel out to a house near Fisk, Mo.

Richardson said they also have had numerous calls to assist the elderly where their homes are surrounded by water. They also delivered formula for one infant, he said.

In addition to the rescues made Monday in Butler County, Highway Patrol personnel also responded to stranded individuals in the Ran Cha Ra area on Current River near Doniphan, Mo., said Nelson, who responded along with Sgt. Doug McDaniel and Mike Lancaster, district protection supervisor for the Department of Conservation.

Nelson said they rescued two individuals from one house, while firefighters with the Doniphan Fire Department rescued another person from a second house.

"The river came up so fast, they got blocked in," Nelson said. "... We were actually able to drive boats up to the house."

Richardson and Wilson, Nelson said, also removed someone else from a home above Deer Leap at Doniphan.

"The next 24 to 48 hours, there is still the potential for heavy rains," Rolland said. "If you come across water on the roadway, do not attempt to cross it."

Nelson agreed.

"We do want to stress if there is water over the roadway, do not drive into it," Nelson said. "It only takes a few inches of water to wash your car off the roadway."

This holds true not only on the main roads, but also on the gravel county roads because "they are going to be susceptible to being washed out," Nelson said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: