As river rises, so does community

The threat of flooding has brought community service and volunteer efforts to the fore in Monroe County and surrounding areas.

Residents have volunteered their time and resources to help those displaced by flooding or reinforce levees in the area. 

Sandbagging efforts began in Valmeyer and Prairie du Rocher last Wednesday, with hundreds of volunteers  helping to fill bags that can be used to reinforce levees or reduce the impact of sand boils.

Many of the volunteers were local high school students. 

In one day alone, volunteers in Valmeyer nearly doubled the number of sandbags the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency had at its disposal. 

State Bank of Waterloo Care Crew members joined the many volunteers who helped fill sandbags at Rock City in Valmeyer, performing 24 hours of service. 

Local businesses donated food to feed the volunteers. 

Residents and businesses also jumped at the chance to help those who have evacuated the Bottoms due to a voluntary evacuation order. 

Even though its grand opening is not until June 5, The Back Porch: A Curiosity Emporium, which is a thrift shop sponsored by House of Neighborly Services, has already offered its location as an option for displaced persons to wash their laundry for free, including use of their homemade laundry detergent. 

Those interested should call 939-3463 to schedule a time to use the washer and dryer.

In addition to hosting sandbagging efforts, Rock City in Valmeyer let residents park farm equipment and campers there for safety until the caves filled up.  

For those who need to evacuate ahead of the flood threat, various businesses and residents have offered storage for possessions. 

Belt Bros. Storage and The Back Porch were among the businesses that offered free or reduced storage.

Numerous individuals have also offered boxes to those in need of moving.  

In addition, local agencies have provided animal housing services. 

Helping Strays has partnered with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department to coordinate an animal shelter at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. 

In Millstadt, Equus Rescue and Therapy has offered to house large animals. 

They have offered their horse stalls to not only horses, but cows, pigs, sheep and goats displaced by flooding. They can also provide a network of local farmers who may be able to help until the crisis is over.

Many farmers have volunteered their property to house animals.  

Monroe County EMA Director Ryan Weber said his office appreciates all the help.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without them. Those residents down there, they couldn’t get everything packed up and moved out as quick as they did without everybody helping each other.” 

Volunteers are still needed to help with efforts for organizations such as Helping Strays, who also need donations such as flat bed sheets for the animal shelter at the fairgrounds. 

For more information on volunteering or donating, visit any these listed businesses on Facebook or join the Monroe County/Prairie Du Rocher Flooding Updates & Resources Facebook group . 

Crest on Saturday

The National Weather Service and U.S Army Corps of Engineers predict the river will crest at 45.9 feet on Saturday. 

County officials say it may stay at that level for several days. If it reaches 46 feet, evacuation orders will become mandatory. 

With the water level so high, Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing has closed off the Bottoms to visitors. Only those who live there or who are volunteering to help are allowed in the area. 

Rohlfing told Monroe County Commissioners at their Monday meeting that he is setting up checkpoints to monitor and control access to the area. His department has already increased its patrols. 

The checkpoint system began today at 6 a.m. 

The Army Corps of Engineers is also patrolling the levees twice daily. 

The main reasons the area is restricted is there is already water in several places, including roads, and to ensure the safety of evacuated homes. 

Rohlfing has also stressed the importance of staying off the levees unless you are there to strengthen them. 

That is because, while the levees are high enough to hold back the water, the duration of time the water stands against them could weaken them and extra traffic only makes matters worse. 

Anyone caught in the area without a pass will be issued a citation.

Also today, starting at 8 a.m. the Valmeyer school is being used as a shelter for residents in the Bottoms. The American Red Cross will be on the scene.  

Finally, there will be a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. curfew for the affected areas with closed roads beginning today. 

Flooding elsewhere

To the east, the NWS reported the Kaskaskia River in New Athens was at 89.24 feet on Thursday. Flood stage is 79 feet. The record flood total is 95.6 feet.

Due to flooding-related hazards, the Kaskaskia River has been closed to recreational boating in St. Clair, Monroe and Randolph counties until further notice.

Just north of Monroe County, an informational meeting on the flood for residents of Dupo, East Carondelet and Sugarloaf Township took place Thursday night at Dupo High School. At the meeting, the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency said it had “no expectations of levee failures or overtopping at this time.” 

“The most important message we’re going to give you tonight is don’t run home and pack your bags and say you’ve got to move,” St. Clair County EMA Director Herb Simmons said. 

South of Monroe County, the Mississippi River Bridge at Chester closed to traffic on Sunday due to the rising floodwaters. 

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James Moss

James is an alumni of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where he graduated summa cum laude with degrees in mass communications and applied communications studies. While in school, he interned at two newspapers and worked at a local grocery store to pay for his education. When not working for the Republic-Times, he enjoys watching movies, reading, playing video games and spending time with his friends.
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