CHARLESTON, Mo. -- Southeast Missouri farmers and property owners whose land is now underwater because of the activation of the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway will get their first up-close glimpse of the damage Monday.
Mississippi County Sheriff Keith Moore announced to about 60 residents at a special meeting Friday that he would allow them access to the floodway Monday -- and Tuesday, if necessary -- from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
But the sheriff cautioned that it would be under strict supervision and that he wanted safety to be a priority in a situation that he still considers dangerous.
"I know everybody wants to go and look at their places," Moore told the group. "I don't blame you. I would, too. You have a lot at stake out there. I know you want to see what kind of damage you're looking at and some of you have said you want to take pictures for insurance purposes."
The controversial activation of the floodway May 2 sent the swollen Mississippi River over the 130,000 acres in Mississippi and New Madrid counties to lower floodwaters in several communities along the river in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. About 100 homes are in the floodway.
Those who want to boat out to their properties must first call the sheriff's department to provide information such as their name, type and color of boat, where their property is and their vehicle license plate number. When they're done, the sheriff asked them to call his department again to let dispatchers know they returned safely. No one younger than 16 will be allowed onto the floodway, he said, and life boats will be required.
"We want to know where everybody's at," he said. "I don't want anybody getting hurt or drowning out there."
Moore plans for there to be two entry points, one at Route HH and the other at Highway 102. Deputies will man those points, he said, to make sure that only property owners are allowed onto the floodway.
He also intends to contact the Missouri State Highway Patrol to man patrol boats and possibly accompany residents to their properties. Moore also encouraged property owners to go in teams.
The property owners said they were eager to have a look.
Glenn Hillhouse, who owns 1,300 acres in the northern part of the floodway, said he will be one of the first to line up.
"I'd like to go out there and see if I have any damage to my buildings or my tanks," he said. "I'll just go in the area of my farm and see what the conditions look like."
But he said he doesn't know what to expect.
"I don't think there's any way of knowing at this point."
Joe Sevic also owns a farm in the floodway, but he said he's too busy to boat out to it. He also owns ground in Morley, Mo., which is keeping him busy. What was done in the floodway has him thinking long-term.
"I've got to decide whether I'm just going to quit or try to borrow the money to start over at 60 years old," he said.