Floods, Mississippi Rivers, levees | Homeland Security Newswire

FloodsFlood thy neighbor: Who stays dry and who decides?

By Lisa Song, Patrick Michels, and Al Shaw

Published 9 August 2018

When rivers flood now in the United States, the first towns to get hit are the unprotected ones right by the river. The last to go, if they flood at all, are the privileged few behind strong levees. While levees mostly are associated with large, low-lying cities such as New Orleans, a majority of the nation’s Corps-managed levees protect much smaller communities, rural farm towns and suburbs such as Valley Park. Missouri. Valley Park’s levee saga captures what’s wrong with America’s approach to controlling rivers.

Just after Christmas 2015, police showed up at the Starling Community Trailer Court in Arnold, Missouri, and told residents to get out. There was no time to stack sandbags, no time to pack. The big one was coming.

The mobile home park backed onto a rising creek, where the oldest residents were closest to the threat. Sarah Quinn raced to help her grandmother and great-grandparents get to safety. They narrowly escaped the rushing Meramec River, which snakes around Arnold and other St. Louis suburbs on its way to meet the Mississippi.

About 12 miles upstream, the Meramec climbed the steep banks of the city of Fenton and flowed across a road into the Riverside Golf Club, where Walt Wolfner was busy carting furniture and computers out of his clubhouse. He knew, because the course had flooded so often lately, that he and 20 workers would need two weeks to mop up the damage.

Thirty miles farther up the Meramec, the river was creeping up on the town of Pacific, too. Devin Brundick and Felicia Ammann, a young couple who owned a small green bungalow beside the river, hurried to load their belongings into a friend’s truck.

By the time the river crested, Wolfner’s clubhouse was under 11 feet of water, Brundick and Ammann’s bungalow was uninhabitable, and Quinn’s grandmother lost everything.

“Her sofa, her chair, her deep freeze, washer, dryer, bed, mattress, all of it,” Quinn said. “All of her books that she’s collected over the years … nothing could be saved.”

They were the lucky ones. The flood killed at least 20 people in the Midwest and broke records along the Meramec. It was a once-in-a-generation flood — or so they thought, until it happened again 16 months later.

Only one city escaped the destruction. Valley Park, just upstream of Fenton, stayed dry during both floods, safe behind a ring of dirt and concrete — a $50 million levee designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Valley Park resident Ryan McDougell. “The engineers that came in here and put the