Losses Continue To Mount After Recent Midwest Flooding

Apr 22, 2019
Originally published on April 22, 2019 10:13 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in the United States, the devastating floods in the Midwest last month caused billions of dollars in damage, and those losses are still mounting. As Frank Morris from member station KCUR reports, the final tally of those losses will likely include entire communities torn apart by this disaster.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Lynch, Neb., with just 200 residents, is tucked away on the South Dakota line. It seems like a remarkably successful town.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOWLING BALL STRIKING ALLEY)

KEVIN THOMPSON: To have, like, a hospital, you know, theater - it's all run by volunteers. And then we've got the bowling alley here.

MORRIS: Kevin Thompson (ph) is the local electrician.

THOMPSON: We got a couple bars. And we got Faith's BBQ (ph) down the street.

MORRIS: But this town's in trouble. The grocery store is for sale. Employee Georgia Courtney (ph) is worried about losing her job and finding a place to live.

GEORGIA COURTNEY: Well, I'm homeless right now, but I'm staying with friends. There's a lot of us displaced that are trying to find a place to go, a place to live or whatever. But there's not that much housing in this town.

MORRIS: Not since last month's flood when Ponca Creek, running through Lynch, jumped its banks, swamping about a third of the town, setting off a chain reaction that threatens to unravel this tightknit community.

TAMARA SMITH: Everybody would really like to stay here, but we don't have the housing. I mean, there's just not enough room.

MORRIS: Tamara Smith (ph) lost her home. She's disabled and worries that the tiny hospital here will soon close, so she's moving.

SMITH: It's a rough time for everybody, and it's going to get a lot rougher.

MORRIS: The flood hit the only sector bringing money into this area - agriculture. Ranchers lost cattle, hay to feed them and, in some cases, access to pastures. Diane Heiser (ph) says she and her husband may sell out and leave.

DIANE HEISER: It's tough. And we live, really, in paradise. I mean, this is gorgeous. This valley here is absolutely beautiful. But the economics are just - and they're not getting any easier. It just gets harder and harder and harder to make it.

MORRIS: And it's not just Lynch. Last month's flood is forcing a reckoning in ravaged towns and farms across parts of four states.

PAT SHELDON: Well, I don't think most people in Bartlett will comeback.

MORRIS: Farmer Pat Sheldon (ph) is talking about Bartlett, Iowa - population 50 - on the southwest edge of the state, flooded by the Missouri River.

SHELDON: I don't think there's hardly anybody in McPaul that will come back. I mean, they've had water up to their eaves or higher. The town that I grew up in, around Percival, we might be lucky if half the residents come back.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Well, I guess I'll take a hotdog then.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: OK.

MORRIS: In Glenwood, Iowa, volunteers are serving lunch to flood victims from little towns nearby here.

SHARON STEWART: My name's Sharon Stewart (ph), and I'm from Pacific Junction, Iowa.

MORRIS: An old railroad town close to the Missouri River and prone to flooding. But Stewart says the crests never reached her house - until last month, when it took 12 feet of water. She says many of Pacific Junction's 450 people are like her, lifelong residents who won't be going home.

STEWART: They can't go back and face this again. Knowing that everything they had is gone, it's kind of like a death.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You want to drive down the road, down that way...

MORRIS: Farther downstream, Richard Oswald (ph) farms near Rockport, Mo. But he's not farming today.

RICHARD OSWALD: Well, I've heard people say, well, I guess it's going to be a summer off because you can see all the water on the fields around us. And these fields over here to your right, those are fields that I farm. And they're completely covered with water. There's still 5 feet of water on that field.

MORRIS: The deluge broke records here and came up neck deep in a place where Oswald had never in his 69 years seen flooding before - the house where he was born and where he's lived most of his life.

OSWALD: Well, I'm not going to go back to that house. And I'm not going to let anybody else live in that house because I don't think it's going to be safe.

MORRIS: He's concerned about mold and future floods amplified by climate change and river management. There's also the threat of aging dams upstream from here giving way. But with all that hanging over his operation, Oswald is just not ready to give up farming this land.

OSWALD: I've even had people that I was - and that I am am friendly with who, when this occurred, said - well, it's just time to let this all go back to nature down here. Well, that's my farm.

MORRIS: It's clear that last month's flood is straining - sometimes breaking - tight bonds between farmers and their land and between small-town residents and their lifelong communities. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.