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Sandbags from Sikeston feed Southeast Missouri's flood fight
SIKESTON, Mo. -- Truck after truck pulls away from the gates at the Jaycee Rodeo Grounds. Some are filled with sand. Others are loaded down with already created sandbags.
Each is a truckload of hope that Southeast Missourians will be able to keep the floodwaters at bay.
The sun was shining brightly on the 80 National Guardsmen working Wednesday to fill the bags. After more than a week at their work, the men had the routine down.
The Guardsmen used Bobcats to scoop up sand, taking it to a machine provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The machine automatically loads each bag with the correct amount of sand and sends it down a belt into the hands of a waiting Guardsman. He passes the bag back to another who ties it and tosses over his shoulder.
Another Bobcat takes the bags away to be loaded on flatbed trailers to be moved where needed.
Lt. Rick Branson, a member of the 880th Engineers, traveled from Perryville, Mo., to assist in fighting Southeast Missouri's rising waters.
He had high praise not only for the soldiers but also for the community members who have joined them to fill the sandbags. Branson said the soldiers have worked side by side with volunteers from local churches, residents and even a high school baseball team.
"And the locals have been bringing us chili at night. We appreciate what they have been doing," Branson said. "And it's motivating."
Also motivating, Branson said, is another group of volunteers. Since Saturday, inmates at the Southeast Correctional Center have assisted by filling bags the old-fashioned way -- with shovels.
"They will bag about a ton of sand a minute," he said.
Jeff Norman, warden at the correctional center, said the inmates, who all volunteered to fill the bags, have been out from early morning until dusk, rain or shine, since Saturday.
He estimated the 200 volunteers have filled 50,000 to 55,000 bags in the past five days. "Honestly, I am almost astounded at how hard they are working," said Norman.
The men work in teams of 40 to fill the bags, which he estimated weigh 30 to 40 pounds dry, and more often during the recent rains weighed closer to 60 pounds.
Many of the volunteers at the prison have family in the area, but others have no idea who they are helping or where the sandbags will be used.
Other inmates, who have clearance to leave the prison, have assisted with filling sandbags on site. One group worked in Morehouse and on Wednesday and Thursday, there was a crew at Caruthersville, the warden said.
With the need for sandbags diminishing, the effort is winding down at the prison. However, Norman said the men are willing to continue if the need arises.
"These people made mistakes and are serving their time but they are still human. They still care," Norman said. "This was all voluntary. They volunteered to do it, and they did. They are proud of what they did and I'm proud, too. They have done just a fantastic job."