Clarksville remains wary, even as Mississippi River floodwaters ever so slowly recede

Clarksville remains wary, even as Mississippi River floodwaters ever so slowly recede.

Seven of the top 10 floods in the town’s 202-year-history have happened since 2000, so residents and business people won’t let their guards down until Big Muddy is back in its banks.

That will take time and patience. After cresting at 35.9 feet over the weekend, the water level had dropped a foot-and-a-half by Wednesday. Without additional rain, the trend should continue, but the water probably won’t drop below the 25-foot flood stage for at least two weeks.

It’s like gas prices. They go up quickly, but don’t seem to come down too fast.

Clarksville United Methodist Church has been a hub for flood-fighters and local residents who are tired, hungry or just need a conversation that doesn’t include talk of sandbags and seepage.

Some are nervous about a rise in the water level. Others fear the shuttered post office won’t re-open. A few have homes they must reach by boat or by putting on chest-high waders. All are glad to have assistance from AmeriCorps, inmates from the Vandalia women’s prison, American Red Cross, St. Louis Area Food Bank and others.

Janie Busch helps organize the church’s noon meals for anyone who comes through the door. She wants displaced local residents to know they are always welcome.

“If that is not our focus, why does the church exist?” she asked. “We’re not here to follow any rules, except what Jesus said was the greatest commandment — love God and love your neighbor.”

The church serves a full menu that changes daily, with two meat entrees, vegetables, fruit, salad, desserts and soft drinks. In addition, the St. Louis Area Food Bank brought four pallets of water and four pallets of boxed snacks Tuesday.

“We’re very grateful,” Busch said. “That will help us reach out to more people. It might help more people stay in their home, even though they can’t cook.”

Church organist Joanna Brock is one of those who has to wade to her home. Her car is parked a block away on higher ground. She doesn’t mind running errands for elderly neighbors, but must pause to remember everything on the list.

“What stops do you have in Bowling Green, what stops do you have in Louisiana?” she said. “When you live on an island, you have to plan.”

Complicating matters is the fact that Brock is a retired teacher who rarely slows down. She’s a Clarksville alderman, Chamber of Commerce president, Visitors Center representative and works with the Park Board.

“I have friends I’ve needed to take care of,” Brock said. “The scary part is: When is (the river) going to come up? How much will it come up? You don’t know.”

The uncertainty that lingers throughout the community is one reason Brock appreciates the church meals.

“I handle the stress very well, but I’m tired,” she said. “I don’t want to cook.”

Caron Quick of The Windsor Chair Shop says the community of 450 residents is fortunate to have the church outreach.

“We eat here (for lunch) and the ladies pack up a little snack for your dinner,” she said. “It’s awesome.”
Angi Grossnickle owns Clarksville Antique Center at the south edge of town. Driving to the facility, which has customers from around the nation, used to be a breeze. These days, the former factory is a peninsula, with water on three sides. It is secure, but getting there entails a bouncy trip over a steep, rutted, muddy private road barely wide enough for the required four-wheel drive vehicle.

And yet, Grossnickle has much the same stubborn resolve as other business people. She and her blind dog, Miley, roam the exterior looking for seepage.

Grossnickle already had a permanent 240-foot-long, four-foot-tall, six-inch-thick concrete wall in place. She and other volunteers spent 13 days filling sandbags to reinforce the homemade levee during what became Clarksville’s seventh-worst flood on April 1.

 Now, with last Saturday’s crest unofficially the fourth-biggest inundation, she’s got more sandbags and five pumps at the ready.

“A drop of water is not going to get in this building,” she defiantly says. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

That’s what Shirley Underwood wants to hear. Underwood is one of more than 60 vendors who sell items at the Antique Center, and her stuff is right up front — the lowest part of the structure.

“I’ve got a lot of investment down there,” she said. “That sandbag wall is protecting my investment.”