Couples return home, find dreams reduced to mud Mo. town may never recover from floods

August 14, 1993|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Staff Writer

ALEXANDRIA, Mo. -- It's a ghost town mired in the odorous muck of two raging rivers now in retreat.

But, this community within a mile of the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers is home to Pam and Robert "Broadway" Davis.

The couple, in their four-wheel-drive Chevy pickup, plowed through 4-foot high water to Jackson street and the white, wood-sided bungalow where they had lived for the past year.

Mud, a chocolate pudding-like goo about 3 inches deep, covered the front porch.

Pam Davis, her boot sinking ankle-deep in the muck, found the same foul-smelling mess inside, her video camera recording the river's remains. Here, where flood waters nearly submerged the town of 471 a month ago, little seemed salvageable.

"I had it remodeled," said Mr. Davis of his house. "I was putting a new roof on it. I owed $750 on it and it was mine. Now it's not worth 2 cents."

Like their neighbors, the Davises heeded the disaster siren July 8 and fled the town before the levee gave way.

This week, with the main road to "Alex," as it is known, finally open and the water down to passable depths, residents returned to their homes to assess the damage. What the flood waters didn't destroy, however, the government may keep them from restoring.

With the Mississippi River cradling its eastern edge, the town of Alexandria is running up against federal insurance restrictions on rebuilding in a flood plain.

Homes here must be built to protect against a flood that has 1 chance in 100 of occurring in any year, an elevation that takes into account the 12-foot high levee's protection.

Without the levee, existing homes would have to be raised an additional 9 feet -- a financial impossibility for many residents.

In the flood's aftermath, federal and local officials are wrangling over how to meet the requirements.

Waiting for a levee

But Robert H. Davis, the city's 54-year-old mayor said it's his understanding that "we can't build back until the levee is back to where it's suppose to be, before the flood."

The reconstruction of the Alexandria levee, however, may be months away. Maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, the levee is eligible for rebuilding, a corps spokesman said.

But with the extent of damage to corps-maintained levees along the Mississippi, there's no telling when or if funds will be available for Alexandria.

For many Alexandrians, the swollen rivers rolled through town so fiercely and with such force that there is little left to rebuild.

At the height of the flood, the town sat under so much water many homes could be seen only from an airplane.

As the waters dissipated, a town torn apart emerged.

Mobile homes had been lifted from their blocks and plunked down elsewhere, their facades peeled back like sardine cans.

There were ranchers and cottages nudged off their foundations, garages pushed into houses, porches deposited on roofs.

Today, if the streets aren't awash with murky river water, they are covered with mud so thick it would take a plow to scrape them clean.

"I guess we're in the same boat as a lot of people," said Phoebe Daw, who has lived in Alexandria since 1946 and raised five children in a two-story bungalow on the edge of town.

In a rowboat

In the shade of a cottonwood tree, Mrs. Daw and her husband John sat in a rowboat, drifting in the still brown waters of what had been their yard.

"We're just waiting for our insurance adjuster right now," said Mrs. Daw, 69. When he arrived, the trio rowed off toward the couple's home.

Later Mrs. Daw said: "I went in the door and turned around and came back out."

It was too much to take: the ceiling had fallen in, the walls had bowed, the floor was covered with "black squishy sour-smelling mud."

She had hoped she could find the photographs -- her children's class pictures, the ones she kept in a suitcase in the downstairs closet. She had saved them year after year.

Her grandson had searched for that suitcase, swam through the murky flood waters that rose to the second floor, but couldn't find it. Now Mrs. Daw would have to rely on her 72-year-old husband to trudge through the muck.

"It's just a fright," said Mrs. Daw, a petite woman who, in the face of her despair, has managed to hold back tears. "You work all your life for something, and overnight it's wiped out."

No flood insurance

Pam and Broadway Davis don't know what they'll do next. They had no flood insurance on their home.

"If worse comes to worse, we'll tear the house down, clean up the yard, maybe put a trailer in here," said Mr. Davis, who retrieved a mud-covered bottle of champagne, a wedding xTC present, and a BB rifle from his silty living room.

"Maybe rebuild," said the 36-yar-old native who, with his 28-year-old wife, are living temporarily in "the next town over."

"There's no way you'll get the smell out of these homes," he said.

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