Group goes to Missouri to help mend a town torn by 1993 flood

May 06, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

Roger DanLaan lost 10 pounds the hard way.

The New Market resident spent two weeks in Alexandria, Mo., last month working 14-hour days to repair some of the homes that were destroyed by last summer's flood.

Mr. DanLaan, 71, was part of a six-member volunteer work party that traveled from Mount Airy to Alexandria the last two weeks in April to aid the town's rebuilding effort.

"It was hard, hard work, but it was fun," Mr. DanLaan said.

The trip was organized by Mount Airy Mayor Gerald Johnson as part of a town flood relief project. Mount Airy residents adopted Alexandria's 110 families last August.

Since then, residents and businesses have raised more than $49,000 for the Midwestern town, at the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers.

The work crew set out on the 900-mile, 22-hour trip April 16, traveling in volunteer Howie Price's motor home and a truck that carried a generator for Alexandria's Fire Department.

"It was a part of the country I had never seen before. and I've never done any community service work before," Mr. DanLaan said of his reasons for going to Alexandria.

In addition to Mr. Johnson, Mr. DanLaan and Mr. Price, the work crew consisted of Barry Lucey, Doug Briggs and 13-year-old Sean McQuin. Mount Airy's town engineer, Steve Roberts, joined the group for the second week.

Mr. Johnson, who had made previous trips to Alexandria, said the town's appearance had improved 100 percent between his earlier trips and when he saw it last month.

Most of the trash was gone, some trees had been planted and there was a smattering of grass, he said.

But the other volunteers, who were seeing Alexandria for the first time, had trouble imagining how things could have been worse.

"The desolation was unbelieveable; only the tall trees were left," Mr. DanLaan said. "The houses were tilted and broken off their foundations. Sometimes you wondered why anybody would ever think of going back there, but it's home."

Most of the Mount Airy area volunteers stayed at the home of Alexandria Mayor Bob Davis. They usually worked at least from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, and often longer.

"They put in 14-hour days," Mr. Davis said of the volunteers. "That's too much, but we couldn't get them to stop."

The crew members installed

plumbing, doors, windows and partitions, tore up bad flooring and tackled myriad other jobs.

They rebuilt a destroyed portion of Mayor Davis' home up from the foundation. In all, the group worked on 12 homes, Mayor Johnson said.

Alexandrians were sometimes successful in their attempts to persuade the hard workers from Mount Airy to take breaks.

Volunteer cooks made them lunches during the week at the local community center, one of the functioning buildings in town. And the work crew attended Alexandria's weekly fish fries.

Alexandria residents who work the night shift at a nearby factory catch the fish in the Mississippi after work every Thursday and cook them for a late-morning feast.

"I'm not a fish eater, but I went back for seconds," Mr. DanLaan said.

Sometimes, after a long day, the Mount Airy crew could be found relaxing at the Purple Cow, a neighborhood tavern that sits on stilts on the banks of the Mississippi.

"You can look right out on the river. It's a beautiful sight," Mr. DanLaan said.

About 10 Alexandria families are back in their homes. The others are living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA).

Although FEMA is offering buyouts to Alexandria homeowners who would relocate, Mayor Davis said he expects about 60 percent of the town's 500 residents to return and rebuild.

"It's a hard struggle, but I hope they all make it," he said.

Two of the biggest obstacles to Alexandria residents who want to rebuild are obtaining building materials and the fact that the town's water service hasn't been restored, Mayor Davis said.

"If we get our water back, there could be 50 families here now," he said.

Bobbie Toops, a manager for the rural water district in Clark County, Mo., said financial negotiations with FEMA, which will pay for 90 percent of the water hookups, have delayed the restoration of service to Alexandria.

Meanwhile, in Mount Airy, the Alexandria flood relief effort continues.

The Mount Airy Jaycees are planning a furniture drive to help Alexandrians when they move back into their homes.

And Mayor Johnson hopes to make another building trip, possibly in early June.

Mr. Price and Mr. DanLaan say they're ready to sign up again.

"It was very fulfilling," Mr. Price said. "Even though we worked hard and were tired, you could see some results. And the people were happy we were there."

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