Morehouse flooding exacerbated by state-built levee to save U.S. 60

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Bill Sprous uses a raft to help carry supplies through floodwater to his flooded Morehouse, Mo. home Saturday, April 30, 2011. (Laura Simon)

MOREHOUSE, Mo. -- The floodwaters crept into Scottie Parks' home as he slept. He woke up and put his feet into 6 inches of it.

"Now it's throughout my entire house," said Parks, the assistant fire chief. "It's ruined. We've lost everything."

Morehouse, a community of about 1,000 people, is about six miles from Sikeston in New Madrid County. Its leaders and residents were up in arms Saturday about a state decision to build a levee Thursday along U.S. 60 that has exacerbated their flood problem.

The western part of Morehouse, which runs along the Little River Drainage District, is underwater. Roads are closed, people have evacuated and more than half of the town's homes are waist-deep in water.

Mayor Pete Leija met with U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Cape Girardeau Republican, Saturday afternoon to complain that the Missouri Department of Transportation's decision to build the levee came without warning.

"We got no notice," Leija said. "None. I did not get a call from any individual. They built the levee Thursday during the night at midnight. We didn't even have a chance. That berm caused our water to go up six inches real quick. We had homes that were within an inch of going under."

Flooding was already taking place, he said, as the waters from the Little River -- basically a big drainage ditch -- overflowed its already meager banks. But MoDOT's decision made a bad situation worse, he said, and left the community in "quite a fix."

Bill Robison, the department's Southeast District planning manager, said that the levee was built to save U.S. 60. The levee that was built Thursday night has held anywhere from 8 to 10 inches from going over the highway, Robison said.

"That water jeopardized Route 60 such to where it would have had to close down," Robison said. "We had to weigh the difference between keeping 60 open. That decision was made at the top at the state level, and SEMA was involved. That route had to be kept open for emergency services."

The department had been in contact with Morehouse officials throughout the week about other flood issues, but he did not know if they had been notified about building the levee.

"I don't know that we specifically involved them in that decision," Robison said.

But Leija said they're left picking up the pieces. Several residents, including those at a senior housing development, have been left homeless. Those seniors are staying at a nearby church, though Emerson put the mayor in touch with the Red Cross, which was working to get them shelter.

"The water is just swallowing us up," Leija said. "It's hitting that berm, going along the highway and circling the town. They've basically created a big bowl around us."

Dan Jennings is a farmer who lives in Sikeston, but he has a 5,000-acre farm in Morehouse, where he grew up. A good portion of that farm is now underwater.

"It did get the highway open, I don't question that," Jennings said. "And it helped everybody south of us. But more than half of the homes here are under water. Nobody has given us a good explanation of what's happened."

George Kruse has lived in Morehouse for two years. While the water hasn't gotten into his home, he's watched many of his friends struggle.

"The western end of town is just destroyed," he said.

And he blames the earthen berm.

"It was just a dam and backed all the water right in town," he said. "They chose the highway over people, and that's not right, to my way of thinking."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Morehouse, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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