Missouri Families Await Word on Flood Buyouts

May 18, 2009

A year after the second-worst flood in history, Lee and Marilyn McGee of Monkey Run, Mo., are still waiting for a buyout offer.

Like many who had damage, the McGees are juggling burdens as they struggle to put the disaster behind them. The couple has lived for almost 16 years on Grape Place in the tiny, unincorporated town of Monkey Run just south of Hannibal.

There’s little to keep the brown, muddy waters of the nearby Mississippi River from inundating the community. The McGees knew when they applied that a buyout could take up to two years, but have grown tired of living in limbo as the months drag on.

“We figured this was going to happen,” Marilyn McGee said. “We’d still like to see if they’re going to do anything.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency each urge patience. “It’s a long process,” said SEMA spokeswoman Susie Stonner. “It just takes time.”

Ralls County is in charge of documenting a buyout plan for Monkey Run. The county still is working with the regional planning commission on an elevation study and a benefit-cost analysis.

“We’re pushing just as hard as we can,” said Ralls County Presiding Commissioner George Lane. “I’d like to get it done right now so that those people can know what they can do. We’re doing everything we can.”

Part of the problem is that some residents already have packed their bags while others have fixed up their homes and never plan to leave. Then there are people such as the McGees, who won’t decide whether to stay or leave until the government makes an offer.

Marilyn McGee worries about crime. Homes to the east, west and north all are vacant now.

“There are houses being vandalized, grass growing waist-high and there are varmints hanging around,” she said.

The couple has sunk a lot of money into repairing the well-kept house bought right after the Great Flood of 1993.

“We did the best we could to rebuild it,” Marilyn McGee said. “It’s not a beautiful mansion, but it’s very livable now.”

Last year’s flood forced the McGees to lease a home in Saverton, but they couldn’t afford to keep paying both a rent and a mortgage. Lee McGee has worked for almost four decades at Continental Cement, and is eyeing retirement.

That has lent a sense of urgency to the couple’s situation. “We really would like to know what’s going on,” Marilyn McGee said.

The buyout program was voluntary. SEMA previously has said buyouts pay off in the long run because they help the government reduce the amount of assistance it pays out in disasters such as flooding that are likely to happen repeatedly.

Missouri estimates that half of almost 3,150 properties bought out after the 1993 deluge were flooded again last year. Ralls County will be responsible for 25 percent of the buyout plan’s cost. Lane said a grant will be used to pay for it.

Back in Monkey Run, weeds are growing on some abandoned properties and brown lines on a few buildings are a reminder of how high the water got last year.

But there also are signs of recovery, from the new paint on some homes to the sprouting gardens in backyards. The McGees recently put in new shrubbery, despite not knowing whether they’ll stick around to see it mature. After everything the couple has been through, the loss would be a small one.

“If we’re out $100, we’re out $100,” Marilyn McGee said.

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