Sacred Heart Valley Park assists in community flood evacuations

** Can't see the photo gallery above? Click here. **

At about 8:30 on a chilly morning, Mickey Downing of the Valley Park Fire Protection District went house-to-house in lower Valley Park, knocked on doors and asked people to evacuate for their safety with the Meramec River nearing the top of the levee protecting the small town.

The levee gate was built to withstand a crest of 42 feet 6 inches, a foot lower than the Army Corps of Engineers predicted crest of 43 feet 6 inches between midnight of that day and 6 a.m. Dec. 31. The levee itself could withstand a 44-foot crest. The record crest was 39, set in 1982.

Most of Downing's knocks went unanswered, which was good news — residents already had sought higher ground. Most of the few who answered were packed and ready to leave, heading to their cars or trucks. A few diehards were staying behind, hoping to stay dry.

"We're seeing what their intentions are, so we can go right there ...," he said, not completing the thought of the previously unimaginable — the topping of the levee built in just 2006.

Dixie Freeman was neither a diehard nor an evacuee. She was stranded, with her disabled 94-year-old mother, a couple of dogs and a cockatiel. She also was cold, shivering in the 33-degree temperature as she approached Downing in the 500 block of Vest Avenue, a couple of blocks from her home — about a third of a mile away — in the 700 block of Benton. She wore light-weight pants and a green knitted sweater.

"Can you help?" she asked Downing.

He quickly learned how dire her situation. She had no phone, no way to communicate with anyone, and a broken down car. A son was expected to pick her up, but the his arrival time was indefinite because of flooding and road closures in his area. Dixie, her mom Nora Dell, dogs Rocky and Fifi, and the cockatiel were stuck.

"My hands are really full," she said, adding, "Oh, boy, it's hard."

Downing quickly offered advice to help.

"I am recommending you go to City Hall for transportation and then go to (Sacred Heart) Church as a shelter, especially since you don't have wheels to get out," he said.

A couple of bystanders volunteered to take Dixie and Co. to the City Hall where Metro Call-A-Ride buses were waiting to evacuate residents. After a few phone calls and help from city hall workers, Metro driver Tamekia Davis drove Dixie back to her home, where Rocky and Fife scampered about as Freeman gathered her and her Mom's belongings in a couple of suitcases and grocery bags. However, Nora didn't want to leave. A diabetic, Nora is near deaf, blind and uses a walker or wheelchair.

"What are you doing with me? What are you doing with me?" she asked, repeatedly. Dixie assured her that everything was all right, that they had to leave for their safety. Dixie again faced the prospect of losing "everything," as happened in the flood of 1982.

Like Dixie, Nora wasn't dressed for cold weather. She wore pajama pants, a housecoat and slippers, with a blanket over her shoulders and Rocky's blanket on her lap.

Ultimately, Nora agreed to leave, but she pleaded to bring her dog. "I want my Rocky. I want my Rocky," she said.

A veterinarian came for the cockatiel, Downing came by with a couple other firefighters, and Davis got everyone, including Rocky and Fife, on the bus for the short ride to Sacred Heart about a mile away.

There, pastor Father Denny Schaab greeted them with open arms. Vehicles from lower Valley Park already filled the church parking lot — United States Postal Service trucks, vans from Circle of Concern food pantry and other businesses, UHauls and Ryder trucks, a recreation vehicle, a tractor and various cars, SUV and passenger trucks. The post office also stored office furniture and supplies in Sacred Heart School

In an agreement with fire chief Rick Wilken, a parishioner, Father Denny opened rooms in the church basement for a shelter, as the parish had done for previous floods. But there was a hitch. Parishioners called in steadily to volunteer to help, but the Red Cross hadn't arrived to coordinate the effort.

While Nora talked nearby about what a friend 12-year-old Rocky is to her, Father Denny worked his smartphone and discovered that the Red Cross was shifting the shelter to another church on Woods Mill Road. The uncertainty of the flood prompted the change; a potential flood-related power outage at Sacred Heart would lead to another evacuation.

Davis reloaded the bus with Dixie, Nora, the two dogs and bags, and off they went again — hopefully to return to a dry home but with uncertainty hanging over their heads.

"We pray for the best," Father Denny said, as they drove away. 

No votes yet