Allenville accessible only by boat, railroad

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

ALLENVILLE, Mo. -- The flooded Diversion Channel has turned Allenville into an island in Cape Girardeau County, accessible only by boat and almost abandoned, weed-choked railroad tracks and a railroad trestle over the muddy, debris-clogged waters.

Water-weary residents say it could get worse. The forecast of more rain later this week could send water into homes in the town of more than 100 people in the southwest part of the county, residents say.

"We're in trouble if we get a big rain," said Phil Thompson, who runs an upholstery business, the only business in Allenville. Thompson said water was within inches of coming in his store on Monday, but the level has since dropped.

Still, Thompson said roads into Allenville likely won't be passable for the rest of this week.

The National Weather Service forecasts the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau will crest Sunday at 47 feet, 15 feet above flood stage. The river stood at 43.7 feet on the river gauge on Tuesday.

Flooding has devastated parts of Bollinger County and threatens to damage homes across southern Cape Girardeau County. Southern Illinois residents are battling the flood as well.

Resident Terry Ross said floodwaters could rise quickly if the river continues to flood and the area's hit again by heavy rains. "It could get serious in a heartbeat out here," he said as he watched a torrent of water roll across County Road 238 as he stood with a handful of other Allenville residents on dry ground south of the town.

Allenville's been cut off by flooding before. "In 1993, we had six weeks of this," Thompson said. The river crested at 48 feet in August of that year.

Clearing a path

Thompson was one of seven Allenville residents who spent part of Tuesday cutting away some of the undergrowth to clear a better path along the St. Louis and Iron Mountain railroad tracks, which are no longer used by the steam train based in Jackson, Mo.

Water covered three county roads into the town since around noon on Monday. Residents took to small boats or walked on the railroad tracks. Some residents parked their cars at the railroad crossing on Route N north of Delta or on County Road 238 just short of where floodwaters stream across the road.

By late Tuesday afternoon, transportation in and out of Allenville improved with the arrival of a small, gasoline-powered motorcar and tiny flatbed car from the steam train railroad.

Gordonville residents John Lorberg and Pete Hanschen hauled in the cars, which the tourist railroad uses for maintenance work on the tracks from Jackson to Gordonville, Mo.

The cars chugged along at a crawl, pushing down small trees, weeds and brush in its path. The bumpy trip took 10 minutes from the Route N crossing to Allenville. On foot, the trip takes about half an hour, residents said.

Lorberg said he others involved in the railroad are glad to help. "The people appreciate it," he said.

Feeling abandoned

Thompson and other Allenville residents say they feel abandoned by emergency officials who have focused on sandbagging efforts several miles away at Dutchtown, Mo.

"It's just sad. We are such a small group and it just seems like nobody cares," Thompson said.

Larry Bock, 1st District county commissioner, said that without sandbagging efforts, homes in Dutchtown near the Diversion Channel would be flooded. Water typically doesn't get into homes in Allenville, he said.

But he said flooding does isolate the town. "They are stranded," he said.

The Corps of Engineers has built a temporary chat and gravel levee at Dutchtown to hold back the floodwaters. Bock said the Corps of Engineers plans to add two feet to the levee today.

The combination of a closed Highway 74 in Dutchtown because of flooding and construction in the Diversion Channel Bridge on Interstate 55 caused traffic to back up nearly to the U.S. 61 exit between Jackson and Cape Girardeau. Commuters had been using Highway 74 to avoid the construction.

Dutchtown residents have long wanted a permanent levee. But Allenville residents like Larry Wolfe hope it doesn't happen.

The levee only would back up more water onto Allenville, he said.

"If they build a levee at Dutchtown, there will be no more Allenville," Wolfe said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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