Buyouts ruined Commerce after '95 flood, says mayor

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

COMMERCE, Mo. -- The residents of Commerce have survived yet another flood, but Mayor Lawrence Vetter says it makes no difference -- the town was ruined after the last big one in 1995.

After that flood, when the river crested at 46.7 feet, one foot above this year's flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency moved in and offered to buy out 74 homes that were destroyed.

Vetter said 31 families took the deal, but only 10 stayed in town. The rest moved to Blodgett, Mo.

"This is the third oldest town on the Mississippi, it was a historical town, and the buyout ruined it," he said. "They bought 31 of those lots and said we can't do anything with them. You can't build on them."

The lands purchased through the buyout became municipal property, which could be used for green space, parks, athletic fields or anything else that would not require construction of any permanent buildings.

Levee wishes

Vetter said he would have rather seen FEMA help build a levee instead of buying all of the properties.

Commerce resident Earl Kight said a levee would have saved a lot of people from having to build mounds to put their houses on and kept a lot of people in town.

"I had to put my house up about a foot higher than the last flood," he said.

Kight said he used to have five or six neighbors, but now he only has one because of the buyout. He said the area is just an eyesore now.

Martha Kraft lives on a hill on the north end of town with her husband, Harold, a commercial fisherman.

She said the water has come close to their house, but it has never gotten inside it. She said the only difference the flood makes for her house is her husband doesn't have to travel as far to get to work.

Her daughter Cindy's house is a different story.

Kraft said her daughter's home lies right in the path of the floodway, but when FEMA offered to buy the land, her daughter didn't budge.

"She lives in town on the land my mom had given her, and she wanted to stay," Kraft said. "It didn't get in her house this time."

Kraft said one of her neighbors, an elderly woman, moved out after the '95 flood, but almost all of her other friends and relatives decided to stay.

"Sometimes it gets a little higher, but it's all the same," she said. "It's terrible when it comes up, but you got to take it when you live on the river."

335-6611, extension 128

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