Missouri governor praises local flood response
Gov. Nixon expects to make disaster declaration in coming weeks
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon spent about three hours Friday visiting the city of Cassville and Roaring River State Park, surveying flood damage and doling out praise to local response teams for saving lives.
"There was a significant amount of water that came through this area, and I want to thank the Department of Conservation, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Safety and Missouri State Parks for their response [at Roaring River State Park]," he said. "Over 250 people were evacuated out as water rose to about nine feet, and because of the quick action taken, we are here talking about when we can go fishing again and not talking about lives lost."
Nixon also praised the Cassville Police and Public Works departments for their response to fast-rising waters on Tuesday and Thursday.
"The city of Cassville was ready and made quick decisions," he said. "We like to operate in what's called force amplify, which is where control is kept at the local levels and the state backs them up. The quick decisions by the police department and public works clearly saved lives."
Nixon said during his time in Cassville, he saw significant damage to city property, especially along the Greenway Trail.
"The trail was basically wiped out," he said. "We will be working with the mayor and public works to get everything back together again. Their actions were extremely courageous, and those strong decisions were made by strong leadership."
Dana Kammerlohr, Cassville police chief, said during Nixon's visit with city and county officials in Cassville, he saw damage at 7th and Park Streets, Fair Street and 13th Street.
"[Nixon] commented a lot about the damage and the rain we had, and he complimented the first responders on getting people out in time without any injuries," Kammerlohr said. "Any time the governor comes to town because of a problem, it is an asset to us for him to see it first hand, so we are thankful he took the time to come."
Nixon said he intends to make a disaster declaration for the state in coming weeks, as the state is still assessing damages and rain is still falling in some areas.
"Under federal guidelines, we have to have $8.3 million in damage to public assets, and if we go over that, that will allow us to give 75 percent reimbursements, and we are clearly over $8 million," he said. "Damage assessment teams will be in the area in the next week, and I'm sure I'll be making a formal declaration after that. I haven't done it yet because there's still rain falling and damage is still being assessed."
David Compton, Barry County Emergency Management director who met with Nixon Friday in Cassville, said initial estimates for damage to public infrastructure in the county is about $250,000, and he expects damages to private businesses and homes to exceed $1 million.
"I would also not be surprised to see those numbers go up as the water goes down," he said. "We have one business with damage estimates between $800,000 and $1 million, and there's 29 other business in Cassville that saw damage as well.
"The economic impact from those direct losses by businesses is huge."
Bill Shiveley, Cassville mayor, said it will be another two to three weeks before FEMA makes any decisions regarding assistance to the city, and city officials are busy assessing damages to be able to give FEMA an accurate value.
"MoDOT engineers will be down to look at the 7th Street bridge to see if its structure has been compromised," he said. "And on 13th Street, on the east side of the bridge, water came across and made three big holes, in the right of way, so there will be issues there.
"We're assessing what is salvageable at the ball field, and the fencing and dugouts are mostly all gone. Some of the Greenway Trail asphalt will need to be replaced, as well as the bridge by the aquatic center, which was destroyed."
Shiveley said Nixon believes the state will qualify for federal assistance, which would mean a 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA and a 10 percent reimbursement from the state. The city would be on the hook for the remaining 15 percent.
"[Nixon] called me on Wednesday and asked where we stood and what the state could do to help," Shiveley said. "He told me they were going to come down on Friday to see everything for themselves."
Compton said the governor's main concern was protecting lives and being aware of weather systems that may continue.
"The question I posed to him was, where do we stand on individual assistance, and what can we do to get families and private businesses back on track?" Compton said. "The governor said he is working with the feds to make that happen, and we'll be working with his office, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Economic Development to wee what programs are available."
Shiveley said businesses may have the most difficult time getting back on their feet, as the area is not part of the federal flood insurance program, meaning FEMA assistance will not be available to private entities.
"The governor made a pledge to work with the Department of Economic Development to with grants and low-interest loans," Shiveley said. "Because the city elected not to be part of the flood program, funding for private businesses is not available through FEMA."
Some aid will be coming soon, however, as Compton said there will be a community resource center set up next week where state agencies will be on hand to talk to families and businesses to help identify resources available and how to approach long-term recovery.
Kammerlohr said she also received a call from FEMA Friday, and it will have representatives at the Division of Family Services on 8th Street Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to meet with residents whose homes were affected by flooding.
Compton said he was honored to have Nixon in the county, saying any time executive branch officials visit a disaster area, it's important to give them something to take away as far as the impact to the area.
"If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing, hearing, smelling and standing by the areas affected is worth a million words," he said. "Seeing those houses and businesses and looking into the faces of the people involved is worth a lot more than any one picture."
Nixon warned that although this round of storms is in the rear view, the next couple months may bring more difficult times.
"We are in a weather pattern that will continue, especially in the steep areas in this part of the state, over the next 30-60 days," he said.
Nixon said he wanted to remind residents not to try to pass through water covering roads, as motorists becoming trapped may lead to fatalities.
"All the deaths we've had this year because of flooding are because of people driving into flood waters," he said.
Shiveley and Copmton both wanted to make clear how the efforts of law enforcement and emergency personnel are why there were no injuries caused by the flooding.
"I can't say enough about the public works department and the police department working together with the county and the fire districts," Shiveley said. "Other parts of the state had less flooding than we did and had deaths, and we had no deaths, so they did a good job protecting people's lives."
Compton said he wanted to recognize three people whose efforts he hope do not go unnoticed.
"Gail Reed is coordinating community disaster recovery through the emergency management office, and she has done that for 15 years and does not have to," he said. "Russ Nichols is coordinating public assistance for damages and has done amazing work, and Dana Kammerlohr, emergency manager for the city, has done absolutely outstanding. When anything happens, the county and the city being able to work together makes all our jobs easier.
"I also certainly want to recognize the first responders, police, firefighters, and deputies. I saw them wading through water to rescue people, and there's no doubt that if they hesitated in their responses, we could have had fatalities."
Nixon said although cleanup efforts are still progressing at Roaring River, he wants people to know that park is open for business.
"Although some of the trout have escaped and are heading down to Gov. [Bobby] Jindal in Louisiana, the fishing is still good here, and none of the cleanup will prevent fishing," he said. "The [murky and high water] makes fishing a little harder, but not impossible. We are not asking for volunteers down here, but we are asking for additional fishermen."
Roaring River reopened on Friday after being closed since Tuesday, when water rose 4-6 feet in a matter of 10 minutes in a three-prong flood, creating a tsunami-like wave of rolling water that engulfed much of the park and campsites.
"The trout park is in a low area with a lot of springs, and the gauges on the bridge said the water rose from 1.9 feet to 9 feet in about an hour," Nixon said.
Although the water was muddy, the banks are eroded and many of the baffles are destroyed, anglers were still casting their lines Friday afternoon.
Shaun Edwards, of Greenbrier, Ark., brought his wife and two sons to the park for the weekend, and even though it was not in the state he expected, his family made due.
"We just got out here [Friday] and it's not at all what I thought it would be," he said. "I told my boys it's clear water and you can see the fish, so we were really surprised when we got here.
"We were a little discouraged with what we saw, but we had to adapt and we are finding what the fish are biting. Powerbait is doing really good, and you have to fish heavy to beat the current."