Deadly tornadoes top list of 2002 stories

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Natural disasters, state budget cuts and a deadly disease topped the list of stories that shaped local residents' lives in 2002.

But stories of triumph rounded out the top 10 local stories, voted on each year by Southeast Missourian newsroom employees: one aging building saved by the state, a city and university's courtroom victory and a new crown jewel for a local school district.

Here is the full list:

1. Deadly tornadoes strike Marble Hill and Dongola

In the early morning hours April 28, residents in the Marble Hill, Mo., and Dongola, Ill., were awakened by the roaring winds of an F3 tornado.

No tornado warnings were issued by the National Weather Service for the storm, which killed 12-year-old Billy Hoover of Marble Hill and 69-year-old Janie Chamness of Dongola, injured many others and left several Bollinger County families homeless. Members of the Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency and many local organizations and volunteers pitched in to help in the aftermath.

FEMA initially announced it would provide aid to rebuild only to government agencies affected by the disaster. Under pressure of Sen. Kit Bond and U.S. Rep Jo Ann Emerson, officials reversed the decision and decided to give grants and loans to homeowners, renters and business owners, too.

2. Southeast Missouri State University budget cuts

In an attempt to offset major decreases in state funding during 2002, Southeast Missouri State University's board of regents gradually implemented several budget-saving moves involving $5.26 million in cutbacks that affected university employees and students.

As part of the budget plan, the university raised tuition costs by $17 per credit hour for in-state undergraduates, closed Parker Pool, eliminated five clerical and technical jobs and reshuffled administrative positions.

The cuts may not be over. After some grim announcements from Gov. Bob Holden, local university officials are bracing themselves again.

3. West Nile virus found in local man, horses

An alarming situation in the rest of the United States hit home in September when 29-year-old Wally Gawrych of Cape Girardeau was diagnosed with the West Nile virus, and several local horses' deaths were blamed on the mosquito-borne disease.

At the time, Gawrych was among 1,640 others in the United States who had contracted West Nile. In Cape Girardeau, the public works department increased its frequency of spraying insecticide, and county health department officials monitored hospitals, day cares and physicians' offices for any new cases of the virus.

Scientists say the virus is certain to be back in the summer.

4. Spring flooding in Southeast Missouri

The almost constant rainfall that plagued Southeast Missouri during April and early May forced several families to vacate their homes and killed one Bollinger County man, Michael Davis, whose truck skidded into a waterlogged ravine.

A deluge of floodwater from the Diversion Channel surrounded sandbagged homes on Highway 74 in Dutchtown and closed part of that highway, adding to traffic problems on Interstate 55 caused by work on the Diversion Channel bridge.

When the Mississippi River finally crested at 45.7 feet in Cape Girardeau May 19, it was at its third-highest level ever. But Dutchtown got good news -- in September, residents learned a community development block grant would fund a permanent levee.

5. Dutchtown fire kills mom, dad, infant

A fatal fire in Dutchtown Dec. 4 that killed a 16-year-old mother, her boyfriend, and their 4-month-old son was ruled accidental, caused by an overloaded circuit.

Rachel Lynne Skaggs and her son, Brett Moore, died of smoke inhalation in a converted 8-by-12-foot windowless, wooden shed. The baby's father, Tim Moore Jr., died a week later at St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis from injuries sustained in the fire.

The couple was staying with Moore's parents, Tim and Barbara Moore, who said they would occasionally go out to the shed, where they had set up a television, space heater and stereo.

6. Marquette Hotel saved by state

After 21 years of vacancy, the deteriorating Marquette Hotel at the corner of Broadway and Fountain Street was sold to Prost Builders after the Missouri Division of Facilities Management awarded the company a state contract for office space.

The 74-year-old building was purchased for around $350,000 and, following $6 million in renovations, will be home to 103 state employees with the departments of Social Services, Mental Health and Health and Senior Services.

The renovations also encompass retail shops on the first floor and two separate parking areas.

7. Missouri Supreme Court sides with city on River Campus

In February, the Missouri Supreme Court advanced Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus project by upholding a 1998 city ordinance that was intended to generate funds for the project. Cape Girardeau businessman James L. Drury had filed a lawsuit objecting to the use of city funds for the project.

Voters in November 1998 approved a measure hiking the motel tax and extending both the motel and restaurant taxes to Dec. 31, 2030, to provide the city's $9 million in funding for the River Campus project. The university and state are paying the rest of the $36.5 million.

Drury sued the city in April 1999, claiming the city council passed a faulty ordinance.

Work on the River Campus project is slated to begin as early as spring. The project will include a visitors center and a museum.

8. Cape Girardeau gets new Central High, lots of school reshuffling

The $17 million Central High School at 1000 S. Silver Springs Road officially opened its doors to students in September. It was the cornerstone in a plan that affected every student in the district.

The junior high moved to the old Central High building on Caruthers Avenue for grades seven and eight. The old junior high became a middle school for grades five and six, meaning all the elementary schools became kindergarten through fourth-grade centers.

Louis J. Schultz School, which housed seventh-graders, closed.

Even school administrators were relocated, as the board office moved from 61 N. Clark to the former vocational building at 301 N. Clark.

9. Citizens Finance Task Force recommends taxes

A group of 13 Cape Girardeau residents appointed to a Citizens Finance Task Force spent several months researching the city's financial problems before recommending the city council consider a four-pronged tax and fee increase that would go toward operating costs, equipment purchases, stormwater projects, a new fire station, an addition to the police station and a $6.5 million aquatic center.

To boost the city's operating budget, the task force proposed a quarter-cent increase in sales tax, the institution of a use tax -- which would tax all out-of-state purchases of more than $2,000 made in the city -- the extension of a 10-cent property tax levy and an increase in stormwater fees.

Voters will decide whether to approve the four taxes on the April 8 ballot.

10. Prominent Cape Girardeau family killed in plane crash

On Sunday, Oct. 20, Cape Girardeau neurologist Dr. Mohammad Shakil, his wife, Farida, and their four children were killed in a plane crash in central Arkansas after spending the weekend at a film festival in Hot Springs, Ark.

Dr. Shakil, 53, piloted the six-seater, single-engine Piper PA-32, which went down near Paron, Ark.

Sixteen-year-old Osman and his younger brother, Hassan, 14, attended Central High School; Sabeen, 13, attended St. Mary Cathedral School, and Rabiya, 11, was in the fifth grade at CentralMiddle School.

WHAT OUR READERS CHOSE

We asked seMissourian.com readers to vote on their top 10 local stories of the year. Their picks (89 votes):

1 Cape Girardeau doctor Mohammad Shakil and his family are killed when the plane Dr. Shakil is piloting crashes in Arkansas.

2 (tied with No. 3) The historic Marquette Hotel in downtown Cape Girardeau is saved by a plan to renovate it for state offices.

3 Southeast football team finishes 8-4, its best record in more than 20 years, and beats its first NCAA Division I-A program, leading to recognition for coach Tim Billings.*

4 (tied with No. 5) Vice President Dick Cheney visits Cape Girardeau to campaign for U.S. Senate candidate Jim Talent, who wins in November.

5 A fire in Dutchtown kills a teen mother and her infant, who were relaxing in a windowless shed. The baby's father dies a week later due to injuries.

6 (tied with No. 7 and 8) Tornadoes in Marble Hill, Mo., and Dongola, Ill., claim two lives and leave others homeless.

7 West Nile virus is found in local horses and then a man, who survives the illness.

8 Albertsons grocery store closes in Cape Girardeau after a year in business.

9 The Missouri Supreme Court sides with the city of Cape Girardeau in a lawsuit over funding Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus.

10 A union for nurses is rejected at St. Francis Medical Center, another union drive doesn't get off the ground for Schnucks and Nordenia workers turn down the Teamsters.

* Voters said the top high school sports story of the year was Notre Dame's state soccer championship, the first by a school outside St. Louis or Kansas City.

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