Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Residents Wading in to Reclaim Their Town

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Residents Wading in to Reclaim Their Town

Article excerpt

For the last month, people who wanted to drive to Portage des Sioux subscribed to the old country saying: You can't get there from here.

Now you can, but it's still an adventure.

Vehicles with high wheels and plenty of traction can take Missouri Highway 94 all the way in. Everybody else can take the bus.

From July 16 until the middle of last week, the National Guard provided ferry service from the Orchard Farm area to Portage. When the water across the cornfields got too shallow for that, the St. Charles County emergency management office started running a bus.

The bus leaves every hour or so - from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. It departs from Rees Road and Highway 94. It carries people over a half-mile stretch of the highway that remains covered by about 1 1/2 feet of river water. The edge of the road is marked by poles on one side and mailboxes on the other.

The maiden voyage for the big yellow Ryder school bus was about noon Aug. 25. That afternoon, the driver was Wally Hayes, a good-humored fellow. "You can't see what's down there, but I'm quite certain it's mud," Hayes said. Hayes was the company's entry in a bus rodeo last year, and he expects that that qualified him to be the first driver on the river route.

As he drove to the spot where the road dips underwater, he said, "Here comes the exciting part." The trip takes about 15 minutes with the bus bumper pushing a bow wave up into the lawns alongside.

Bus passengers alight at St. Francis School where a food pantry is in operation.

The mud covering every horizontal surface in Portage is dry and cracking. It crunches underfoot. But Mayor George R. Combs says a summer shower quickly revives the sediment's gooiness. "And the smell," Combs said. "River mud stinks."

The town is home to 503 people, mostly blue-collar workers, who live for the most part in single-story frame houses, each of which bears the high-water mark of the flood somewhere around their middles. Many front yards have a pile of soggy mattresses and other household debris on them. Trash fires smolder in some front yards. Johnny-on-the-Spots cluster on the corners.

The picture is not altogether bleak. The mud-covered streets are lined with big, old maple, oak and pecan trees, which are expected to survive. And as if to demonstrate that the town spirit lives on, freshly laundered American flags fly brightly from poles and porches.

Combs says the town will come back in maybe six months to a year "if FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) doesn't try to choke us to death with red tape and paperwork and permits."

Combs has strong feelings about that. Most of the people, including Combs, plan to repair their own houses. He doesn't think they should have to wait for a permit if all the houses need is drywall and carpeting, something a respectable do-it-yourselfer can handle. …

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