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Volunteerism Up, Flood Waters Down

AmeriCorps volunteers helped construct a sandbag wall to protect Clarksville’s historic downtown, but they say more needs to be done to find a long-term solution to flooding in this Mississippi River community. Photo credit: Clare Holdinghaus.

CLARKSVILLE, Mo. – A municipal decision put one historic Missouri city in danger as the Mississippi River began to rise. While volunteers stepped in to save the town, they say a permanent solution is needed to keep Clarksville’s history from washing away.

The Clarksville City Council said it couldn’t afford to pay for flood protection for its downtown this year, so when floodwaters began to rise earlier this month, volunteers helped construct a homemade concoction of sandbags, barricades, and boards. Clare Holdinghaus says this was the third time in 15 months her St. Louis-based AmeriCorps team was called in. She says an ounce of prevention would go a long way.

“It really does fall on the local municipality and local emergency management, but we are kind of on call for any response-type of initiatives that need to be made,” says Holdinghaus.

In 2013, Clarksville experienced a record-setting flood which city officials say cost $400,000, the equivalent of its entire budget. While they hope to eventually install a high tech Lego-style barricade which can be assembled anytime there is a flood, the mayor says there simply isn’t funding for it right now.

Holdinghaus says over the course of 10 days, her team put in more than 1,000 hours of service, working side-by-side with city leaders, residents, business owners, and other organizations. While this may be just one part of a larger battle, she says it’s a victory nonetheless.

“Even during the height of the flood, while the waters were cresting, you could look out onto the town and only see very limited damage to the historic buildings and homes,” says Holdinghaus. “The fact that our efforts kept the situation from becoming worse was very satisfying.”

Experts have pointed to climate change, new levees upstream that funnel more water downriver, bad luck, or some combination of all three as explanations for the extreme flooding which has become commonplace along the Mississippi River in recent years.

(Courtesy of Mona Shand of the Missouri News Service)

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