By Tuesday, the panicked evacuation that came shortly after Christmas had faded to something that felt more like some awful nightmare.
Brittany Cole stared down the dreary, sodden, pressing reality of what’s next after the flooding that had hit so much of Missouri.
“Oh, no,” she said time and again as her body shivered from the late December chill and the on-and-off sobbing that came with each new discovery in the mess of a trailer that had been home.
She and her husband, Kenny, had just put in new flooring in the kitchen. The couple — he’s 31 and she’s 28 — had recently spent $10,000 on materials to remodel the place. They’d also put an incalculable investment of sweat and toil into transforming it into a home for themselves and their four children.
“It’s all right,” Kenny Cole told her in consolation. “It’s all replaceable.”
Still, she cried.
“We worked so hard on the house,” she said. “We remodeled the whole thing. … We have no way to start over. Nothing.”
The Coles and the extended family they lived with — four trailers next to each other in the Kendricktown neighborhood of north Carthage near a branch of the Spring River — represent a story repeated for the mostly poor residents occupying low ground here.
The land was affordable precisely because it was so precarious. It sits in a flood plain, and most either couldn’t buy or didn’t realize they needed insurance for the high waters that churned through the area last weekend.
William and Tina Stanley, 48 and 49 respectively, bought the lot about four years ago so they’d have a spot of their own and so various relations could join them. The Stanleys lived in the trailer closest to the road. Three more trailers parked each by the next gave shelter to the Coles (she’s their daughter), Tina’s brother and the Stanleys’ son.
Under an overcast sky amid freezing weather Tuesday morning, they made a grim appraisal of what the floodwaters left. In each of the trailers, a Christmas tree stood inexplicably just where it had been left. All else was chaos.
It was just a few days before that the Coles’ twins had turned 3.
Now their refrigerator looked to have floated and come to rest at a 45-degree angle against a wall, children’s artwork still affixed to the door. Carpets lay slick with muck. Electronics were fried. Beds were saturated. A hamster cage was mysteriously emptied.
William and Tina Stanley had spent their first post-flood night in a motel. Then the money ran out, so they moved to cots in the Fairview Christian Church, and quickly became eager for something more, well, normal.
“It’s just overwhelming,” William Stanley said. Over a few hours Tuesday, he would repeat the phrase every few minutes as if to explain something to himself. “It’s just overwhelming.”
He lost his prized motorcycle. A beloved pickup. An older SUV.
And then there were the pets. Two Labradors shivered around the debris of the family’s miniature trailer park. A few smaller dogs barked from inside idling cars, warmer but frustrated. Meantime, seven other Chihuahuas had been dropped off at a shelter.
“I’ve been so worried about them,” said Tina Stanley. “But we have so many other things to worry about right now.”
Worries continued through many parts of Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.
On Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon activated the state’s National Guard to protect communities and help emergency workers. Communities along the Mississippi River were bracing for what some were calling historic flooding.
And the death toll from the weekend flooding in Missouri reached 13. Of those, 12 were in vehicles that drove into water flooding roads.
Water from the Spring River is an occasional annoyance on low-lying ground in the Kendricktown neighborhood. So when, Saturday night, it began to flow in, there seemed little reason for worry.
“It was nothing special,” William Stanley said. “It was raining off and on. Nothing big.”
But a neighbor called Sunday morning to warn them that the water seemed to be rising unusually fast. They moved a few vehicles to higher ground. But by midmorning, William needed a boat to ferry out Tina along with the Chihuahuas in a cage, unable to salvage any possessions to speak of.
In all, he spent hours in the muck and water, up to his collar, until paramedics tossed him in their ambulance to strip off his clothes, put him in a hospital gown and smother him in blankets.
“I was about to collapse,” he said.
Warmth would come. Yet the near- and long-term future carry a decided chill. Without flood insurance, there’s no obvious path to returning to even the modest comfort of a trailer. The family water well is spoiled and the pump is toast. The trailers all seem shifted from their moorings. The floors and walls have been soaked. Porches washed away.
The Red Cross came by to begin assessing the damage Tuesday morning. But it’s likely to provide temporary housing assistance, at best.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Brittany Cole. “I really don’t.”
At the Fairview Christian Church, several dozen people were taking shelter with the Stanleys on cots in a building that was once a Wal-Mart. It’s clean. It’s warm. There’s food. But it’s a dreary purgatory between a ruined home and refuge on a friend’s couch or in a relative’s basement.
Joan Brown, a Red Cross volunteer at the temporary shelter, said it will stay open until those washed out by the flood find lodging elsewhere.
“It’s usually seven to 10 days,” she said. “But the thing is, we want to get them a proper bed.”
Tapping into existing networks of families and friends helps. But poorer families have less capability to help out. Other social service agencies will help look for more permanent solutions. But the successes can be uneven.
Aura Reyes and Eluvio Ordoñez sat in the shelter unsure where they would land next. They, too, came from the Kendricktown neighborhood. Their two-bedroom home filled with 3 feet of water Sunday morning. Virtually everything inside was ruined. Reyes came home that morning, stealing away from her job in a poultry processing plant, in a vain attempt to spare some belongings from the water. All the new shoes that came on Christmas were lost.
Relatives brought the couple, Guatemalan immigrants, and their three children clothes. But none had enough room to shelter the family. They had insurance against robbery, tornadoes and fire. But nothing for floods.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Ordoñez.
Reyes nodded. “I’m worried” — without flood insurance — “about who will help us,” she said.
Likewise, William Stanley fretted about what might lie ahead for his clan.
“It makes me sick,” he said, “just talking about it.”
Scott Canon: 816-234-4754
The Fairview Christian Church has partnered with the Red Cross on a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for victims of the flood in Carthage. Donations can be made here.