Floodwaters fall, but much in Olive Branch still underwater

Sunday, May 8, 2011
Water slowly recedes Saturday from the homes along Highway 3 in Olive Branch, Ill. (M.D. Kittle)

OLIVE BRANCH, Ill. -- Dena Wood pointed to the wood paneling on her living room walls, about 5 feet up.

That's how high the water climbed when it burst over Highway 3 early Tuesday morning, destroying the home her family has lived in for more than 15 years.

"It's a total loss," she said, standing at the edge of her sodden yard late Saturday afternoon. It was the same story at her next-door neighbor's, her mom, who will spend this Mother's Day separated from the house she's lived in for more than 50 years -- the house where Wood grew up.

Inside Wood's ranch-style residence, the water is mostly gone, but the mud and muck coat the carpet, linoleum and closets. Rot has set in. Everything is ruined. So much damage that Wood says it's hard to feel anything at this point. She's just numb.

"We had been fighting it for a week around the clock when we lost it," she said.

On Saturday, the floodwaters had receded from many of the homes consumed by the combined wrath of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, but much remained underwater in this unincorporated community of about 800 people.

Heavy rains early last week, residents say, were the final assault on a flood-fighting town that welcomed hundreds of volunteers in the effort to hold the rivers back.

"So many good people showed up," Wood said. "Without them, we would have lost it a lot sooner."

Relief for Olive Branch, Cairo and other Southern Illinois communities started to arrive by midweek, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detonated the Birds Point New-Madrid levee in Southeast Missouri, unleashing torrents of river water into the 130,000-acre floodway beneath. Some 100 homes were in the floodway's fertile farmland.

While welcome, some say the corps' action came too late. The plan to breach the levee was opposed by floodway farmers and many others in Southeast Missouri but urged by residents in communities upstream. The corps' right to do so was affirmed in federal court.

Late Monday evening, as the river gauge at Cairo topped 61.5 feet, the corps began blasting the levee at its northernmost points, releasing the backed-up water into the floodway.

The breach has done what the corps hoped it would do.

On Saturday morning, Cairo's gauge was at 59 feet, more than 2 1/2 feet lower than its peak reading of 61.72 feet early last week, according to the National Weather Service. It was projected to drop to 58.5 feet today, still 18 1/2 feet above flood stage but a level that gives Cairo some room to breathe. The gauge at Cape Girardeau was at 41 feet Saturday, down a foot from the day before and predicted to drop another 1.2 feet by early this morning.

The flood fight continues at points south along the Mississippi River, into Memphis, Tenn., and Vicksburg, Miss., where the corps has moved.

Wood said she doesn't know if breaching the levee earlier would have helped. The point is moot now.

Like many of her neighbors, Wood doesn't have flood insurance. She's not sure what she's going to do next.

A friend who stopped by to check on Wood and her family said last week's heavy rains and flooding seemed like a scene from the film "The "Amityville Horror." He said folks in Olive Branch had long asked what would happen if the Ohio and the Mississippi ever rose up at the same time. Now they know, he said.

About 15 miles down the road on Highway 3, McClure, Ill., was hoping to dry out. Several homes remained underwater.

L&D Patio, a busy highway bar, served the flood-weary.

Co-owner Melodie Stoffel said she's had enough water for a while.

"We've had water go through the bar, and every morning me and my husband get up and we both grab a Wet-Vac and we start sucking water," she said. She counts her blessings that the floodwaters haven't crept behind the bar or into her kitchen, and the tavern has remained open throughout.

"We've had it good compared to others," she said.

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

41621 Highway 3, McClure, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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