Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler visited with residents of Devils Elbow Monday morning, as well as Pulaski County officials.
Devils Elbow residents got a chance to meet with Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler Monday morning as she came through the area to view flood damage and to talk with victims about what they need.
Presiding Commissioner Gene Newkirk, Western District Commissioner Ricky Zweerink, Eastern District Commissioner Lynn Sharp, County Surveyor Don Mayhew, and Pulaski County Emergency Management Director Lawson "Smitty" Smith were also on hand to talk with Hartzler and discuss Pulaski County's major flood history.
The historic community of Devils Elbow was hit hard by the recent record-breaking flood, with homes that weren't historically at risk for flooding, seeing waters rise high enough to hit the roof of those homes in some cases.
Hartzler arrived in Devils Elbow around 9 a.m. Monday morning to be greeted by local officials and residents. Residents hand delivered letters telling their stories to Hartzler during the meeting.
Terry Toula, a resident who lost his house completely during the flood provided a copy of his letter to the Daily Guide. Toula's house was one of the structures that was torn from its foundation and carried downstream to break up against other houses and the bridge.
Toula's letter outlined the main issues residents and County officials believe are the most pressing concerns facing Devils Elbow and the county following this latest flood.
We do not need words of sympathy and promises, but we do need your voice to be heard louder than ever in Washington, for action and assistance to the residents of this communityTerry Toula
One of those concerns includes the county's troubles in receiving funds from FEMA in the previous flood events from 2013 and 2015. Newkirk told media during the visit that the county is "strapped" and "very limited" in what it can do thanks to trouble getting reimbursed from FEMA in the previous floods.
"We haven't even gotten half of near what we were supposed to get from the 2013 flood," Newkirk said.
Hartzler recently got a bill passed in the House that she said addresses some of these issues with FEMA. The Daily Guide asked Hartzler to discuss the bill and that video is available at www.waynesvilledailyguide.com.
"Ever since the 2013 floods experienced by Pulaski County where it became very evident that FEMA was very inept in their ability to handle a disaster. They've asked the county officials multiple times for the same paperwork, they've lost the paperwork, they sent various recovery teams, each one was different from the one before and asked the local officials to explain and to show all over again and yet they've denied some of their requests and it's now on appeal. This is just not acceptable. My bill forces FEMA to develop a new system," Hartzler said.
Hartzler said she had talked to colleagues "all around this country" who were reporting having the same issues in their areas with FEMA following disasters.
Another concern Toula addressed in his letter was the regulations from the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency that prevents the dredging of local rivers and waterways.
"It has been 50+ years since the Big Piney has been dredged and over that period the amount of sand and gravel that has been carried down river has in essence made it shallower," Toula wrote.
Toula pointed to the trend in ever higher flooding that has been experienced in Pulaski County as being a result of "shallower river beds."
The Daily Guide also talked to Rep. Robert Ross Monday afternoon, the representative for District 142 where much of the areas along the Big Piney that were affected by the flooding can be found. Ross said he was in "100 percent agreement" that the lack of river dredging was a problem, echoing the statements of Toula and other county officials while discussing the problem.
"I believe the longer term solution to future flooding of the Elbow is in dredging," Toula wrote in his letter to Hartzler.
Many residents in Devils Elbow also mentioned the issue to Hartzler as she toured the flood damaged community, including Susan and Tom Nard. The Nards own a home that sits well above the historical area of flooding and did not have flood insurance. The Nard home sits about 30 feet above the river and had never flooded before.
According to the Nards, the water reached the edge of their roof, nearly 40 feet above the river's normal levels. Susan Nard told the Daily Guide that their house is a loss and they plan to demolish it themselves.
The Nards and Terry Toula were interviewed by Devils Elbow resident, Anne Williamson and the video is available at www.waynesvilledailyguide.com. However, Toula incorrectly states, in the video, that the Roubidoux was dredged and Waynesville didn't experience any flooding this year. Mitchell Creek in Waynesville was cleaned out of debris, with permission from the Corps of Engineers, not dredged, according Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman. Hardman corrected and incorrect report by the Daily Guide on its Facebook page that Mitchell Creek was dredged. The Roubidoux was not touched at all. Waynesville did experience flooding, but it Hardman said she believed the cleaning out of Mitchell Creek helped in this year's flooding event. Mitchell Creek connects to the Roubidoux near the Route 66 bridge in downtown Waynesville.
"We did however remove tons of debris, gravel and trees from Mitchell Creek with permission from the Corps of Engineers. We believe it has made a difference. We have installed gravel traps in that area and are planning to build a detention area to slow water coming from Hunter's Point," Hardman said on the Daily Guide's Facebook page.
*Editor's note: The Daily Guide also incorrectly called Mitchell Creek Miller Creek in the printed and previous online version of this story. A correction will appear in the Wednesday edition of the Daily Guide on page two.
"Congresswoman, this will be the third time I will be filing a claim with NFIP. The first two times (2008 and 2015), I was able to renovate the residence. In 2016, I applied for and was approved for a $30,000 FEMA grant under their increased cost of Compliance Program which I used to elevate the house to be above the flood plain based upon current elevation surveys. The elevation project was completed this past January and now, the house no longer exists, it floated down the river, disintegrating along its path. Most all of my neighbors are without flood insurance and they're devastated. The loss is akin to death," Toula wrote.
Other issues addressed by Toula and discussed during Hartzler's visit included the need for a speedy federal disaster declaration by the president, the inaccuracies of the flood plain elevation maps which is preventing some people from being eligible for the National Flood Insurance Program, and difficulties with local river gauges.
Pulaski County has been coming together in an effort to try to help Devils Elbow. Toula pointed to the efforts of Angie Hale for coordinating efforts, offered thanks to volunteers from Fort Leonard Wood, local citizens, and members from the Church of Latter Day Saints, as well as the Red Cross. Toula expressed gratitude for their efforts, but wrote to Hartzler asking for more than sympathy.
"We do not need words of sympathy and promises, but we do need your voice to be heard louder than ever in Washington, for action and assistance to the residents of this community," Toula wrote.