Marble Hill residents still have hands full

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- Jim Bollinger looked at a satellite view of the storms crossing the state Saturday from his computer.

"I don't like the looks of this," he muttered.

Elsewhere in the area, residents were casting a wary eye skywards as a summer squall made its way through.

The storm passed without incident, but it seems like every time it clouds up these days, people in Southeast Missouri feel uneasy.

The community has had good reason to feel put upon by the weather, especially residents of the Marble Hill area, who've seen a tornado and two floods in the last 30 days.

"I swear to God -- when the clouds start rolling up -- the fear can make you sick to your stomach," said resident Betty Hastings, whose Lake of the Hills home was hit by the tornado.

Bollinger, director of emergency management in Bollinger County and fire chief for the local volunteer department, has had his hands full.

On April 28, an F3 tornado wreaked havoc on an area just south of town, ending the life of a young boy and badly injuring others.

The storm struck in the dead of night and left more than a dozen families homeless, forced to move in with relatives or to a local hotel.

Some homes looked as if they had been hit by bombs with debris scattered everywhere. Livestock was killed. Fences were destroyed and hundreds of wind-tossed trees blocked roads and made immediate aid impossible.

As word of the damage spread, people from surrounding communities pitched in to help, but no one more than the residents of Marble Hill.

Townspeople rallied, bringing chain saws and bulldozers, offering food round the clock at a local church and generally offering moral support. Neighbors lent hammers, supplies and elbow grease to the tornado victims.

Rising water

Two weeks later, the rains started.

On May 12, Crooked Creek in downtown Marble Hill overflowed its banks and flooded the city. The water rose several feet in some homes and businesses.

Again, the storm hit in the middle of the night.

"People who were so helpful during the first disaster suddenly had their own problems," Bollinger said. "They had to bail out their own homes," he said.

Jon and Betty Hastings, whose house was practically destroyed by the tornado, found themselves downtown at 2 a.m., bailing out the family business, Lutesville Motor Company, and moving files and equipment to higher ground.

Bollinger was caught between emergency flood work and running home to help his wife bail water out of his own home.

"In the 27 years I've lived here, that's the highest the water has ever been," he said.

And four days later, the city flooded again. Creek waters washed over already saturated banks.

"Thank God it wasn't as bad," Bollinger said.

On Saturday, May 18, the Hastings family and others like them who had been rebuilding their own homes, headed downtown to help muck out flooded houses there.

"I had family come in from out of town to help build, but I told them, 'I'm in the dry, we've got mudding to do,'" Betty Hastings said.

Over Memorial Day weekend, the sound of hammers and saws filled the air. The new roof looks nearly complete on the Hastings' house, thanks to the steady efforts of friends and relatives.

"That's how I got my house the first time," Betty Hastings said. "I don't know where I'd be without family." She made clear the word "family" extended much further than blood kin.

The trauma of the last month has taken a toll, she admitted.

"But when you've got your life, what's a few two-by-fours?" she said.

Small miracles

The storms also taught Hastings how generous the people in her community are.

"I've had strangers in my yard, who just said, 'I'm here to help. What can I do?'" she said.

And every day she discovers small miracles.

Most of her pets survived, including her dogs, six pairs of quail and a one-legged goose she had adopted.

An in-wall freshwater aquarium survived the blowing debris. The fish seem not to mind the chaos around them.

"I'm too fortunate to whine about anything. I've got so much more to be thankful for," Hastings said.

Next-door-neighbors Eddie and Jean Graham are recovering physically after being trapped several hours when their log cabin was destroyed.

They haven't decided whether to rebuild.

After the tornado, an empty storefront was filled with donated supplies, blankets, clothes and food.

But much of those disaster supplies for the tornado victims were mud-soaked in the flood. Saturday, disaster supplies were continuing to arrive to replaced the ruined offerings.

"That's the way it works around here," Hastings said.

335-6611, extension 160

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