School cleaning up after floods

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- The sound of fans whirring and the smell of musty creek water filled the air at Woodland schools Tuesday, a day after Crooked Creek spilled its banks and flooded the buildings with two feet of water and an inch of mud.

Superintendent Bill Biggerstaff said a lot of the district's computers were damaged, hundreds of books were ruined and every hallway and classroom was turned into a swamp early Monday morning.

"We've been cleaning for about 14 hours, and we're probably looking at another 20 just to get this place back to some kind of semblance," Biggerstaff said.

Students, teachers and other volunteers helping clean walked past mud-filled lockers, over piles of muddy books and classroom materials and into rooms with swampy carpets and dirt-covered computers Tuesday.

But Biggerstaff said the losses would have been a lot worse if it hadn't been for one man, Bollinger County deputy sheriff Mike Pinkley.

At 2:15 a.m. Monday, Pinkley got a call from the sheriff's office telling him water was rising in Glenallen. After checking on a few houses there, he decided it would be a good idea to look in on the schools.

On his way to the campus, he passed a truck and noticed the water next to the tires about 6 inches deep. Thirty seconds later, when he got to the school, it had risen another 6 inches, so he decided to break through a window and climb into the school to see how much water was in the building.

"By the time I got to the principal's office, the Plexiglas windows were bulging from the water on the outside," he said. "I called my wife Katie because she's a kindergarten teacher at the school and asked her what I should do."

But before his wife could answer, the windows exploded and water started rushing in.

A floating angus

"She kept telling me to get out of there," he said, "And I kept saying, 'There ain't no gettin' out of here now.'"

Pinkley hung up the phone and ran to the computer lab at the north end of the building. Once there, he broke out the window, got inside and started yanking the computer towers off the floor and putting them up on desks.

Then he ran back to the principal's office.

"The water was about knee deep and I could hardly stand," he said. "I called my wife and said, 'What's wrong with this picture? A black angus just went floating by the window.'"

He said his wife panicked and told him to get off the phone and get on the four-foot-high stage in the cafeteria. Instead, he decided to check on some of the elementary classrooms.

When he couldn't do anything to stop the water from rising, he decided to wait for the water to go down while he played solitaire on one of the computers.

"I started to feel a tingle like I was getting shocked, so I went back to the principal's office," he said.

He called his wife one last time to tell her the water was going down and he would be home soon. She told him to be careful because she heard someone was swept away in the waters just down the road.

Pinkley made it home safely and slept for a few hours.

When he returned to the area at 9:30 a.m. to pull logs off the road where a truck had overturned during the night, he discovered the body of 21-year-old Michael Davis.

Davis drowned around 4 a.m. Monday after the pickup truck he was driving skidded across water-covered Highway 34 three miles west of Marble Hill.

"It was just a bizarre day," he said. "It's like everything was in slow motion, like it was a dream or something."

Canceled classes

Classes were canceled only three days before school was to let out for the summer.

Biggerstaff said the state requires students to attend classes for 174 days, so the students are going to have to make up the last three days of school either at the end of this week or at the beginning of next school year.

He said he would like to have students come in Friday for classes, but a final decision won't be made until the rooms are clean and most of the damaged materials are removed.

Fourth-grader Felicia Bratti wanted to help with the cleanup Tuesday, so she sorted through mud-covered books in the school library.

"Yuck," she said. "They're all wet and slimy."

Scott Crader, a 1983 graduate of Woodland High School, said he helped clean when the school flooded in 1982, and he saw it as his duty as a community member, graduate and parent to help clean with this flood.

"This is exactly what it was like in 1982," he said. "You just have to take everything out and hose it down."

Dawn Lincoln, a 1991 graduate, has two children in the district. She said she just wanted to help because it was her school a decade ago and it's her children's school now.

"These folks have just walked up and asked what they could do," Biggerstaff said. "It's part of the strength of this community. They were here till 10:30 last night, and they came back at noon today."

hkronmueller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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