July 5, 2008

Worst is Over for Hard-Hit Town

By Steve Giegerich, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jul. 5--By Steve Giegerich



Winfield -- The last time Dennis Carver saw the Pin Oak levee, National Guard and emergency crews were blanketing it with sandbags, an epic last stand to protect the town of Winfield from the Mississippi River. Seated in the stern of a Lincoln County Fire and Rescue boat Friday afternoon, Carver got his first look at the futility of the effort he helped coordinate as the chief logistics officer for the Lincoln County Emergency Operations Center.

With a few exceptions at some points along the levee, the Pin Oak is no longer over-topped as the receding Mississippi ebbs ever so slowly toward its natural river bed.

"I'm proud of what we did out here," Carver said. "We held the water out of there for 14 days, we gave people 14 days to get out of there. It's disappointing, but I guess we all knew we weren't in control."

During Friday's 2 1/2-hour media tour of water-ravaged Winfield, the task that lies ahead, however, became abundantly clear.

Near the banks where the river normally flows southward, electrical lines dipped perilously close to the water.

Homes hard by what was the river's edge, even those on stilts, appeared to have sustained significant damage.

And flotsam and debris -- empty plastic bottles, a soccer ball and half-sunken motorboat -- floated everywhere.

A measurement sign posted on a utility pole approximately a mile and a half from the intersection of Highways N and 47 indicated a water level still approaching 8 feet.

Even so, signs that the worst is over are inescapable.

At Cap Au Gris, just south of Winfield, floodwaters eddied into the Mississippi with the pleasant sound of a fast-flowing stream.

Lt. Cory Swafford of the Winfield-Foley Fire Department, said he sees a marked difference every day.

"By the way the water is going down, it looks like it's going to be pretty quick," Swafford said.

Quietly surveying the scene, Carver couldn't resist speculating on the outcome had it not been for the rodent that many believe spelled the difference between maintaining the integrity of the Pin Oak levee and what ultimately occurred.

"You can't help but wonder what would have happened if it wasn't for that muskrat hole," he said.

"But there's more honor in striking out swinging that letting the ball go by. Hopefully, we'll remember the fight better than we'll remember the loss."

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