Historic flooding in Texas County closed highways, caused widespread damage and led to multiple water rescues over the weekend. Fortunately, no lives were lost.
Officials estimate $4 million in damages after about 16 inches of rainfall was dumped in the region in a three-day span. As waters began to recede, 40 county roads remained closed Monday.
“It seems like we have more closed roads than open roads,” Texas County Sheriff James Sigman said.
Heavy rain began falling Friday and by Saturday morning, floodwaters were rising at unprecedented levels. Highway 17 at Dogs Bluff was among the areas that had never closed before that were shut down. Faith Fellowship, a church just past the area, canceled its Sunday services due to the uncertain forecast and fear of rising waters.
The Houston School District dismissed Monday classes due to flooded roads on bus routes – a first in recent history.
“I’ve been teaching at Houston for 25 years,” elementary teacher Sheryl Hock wrote on Facebook. “Many years ago we dismissed early so students could get home before the roads were impassable. However, I do not recall missing a whole day because of flooding.”
Texas County activated its emergency management operations center at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Texas County Administrative Center on Grand Avenue as the magnitude of the disaster became known. Township representatives gathered in Houston to discuss plans to begin the difficult task of repairing some bridges and numerous roads in the county.
Sigman, who said his department participated in several water rescues, slept on a cot in his office over the weekend.
“When you know you’re only going to get a couple of hours of sleep, there’s no need in going home,” he said.
Traffic increased on U.S. 63 through Houston around noon Sunday as vehicles from Interstate 44 were detoured here. Portions of I-44 are expected to be closed for days.
The magnitude of the high water merited a “Houston, Mo.” mention Monday on NBC’s “Today Show.”
Even by noon Sunday, when the Big Piney River had begun receding, its level was still at 36 feet.
“As far as I can remember, that’s 10 feet higher than its ever been,” said Sgt. Jeff Kinder, spokesperson for Troop G of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “Nobody could have believed that was going to happen.”
FLOODING BEGAN SATURDAY MORNING
Heavy rain began falling Friday overnight on already saturated ground. In the city of Houston, Brushy Creek was out of its banks and a Walnut Street/Highway F bridge was closed. The roadway was reopened Tuesday. At 11:30 a.m., the south end of Highway 17 from the Dogs Bluff Bridge was reported one foot over the roadway.
Cass Township had 18 roads closed on Saturday. Near the Big Piney River west of Licking a large stretch of Highway 32 near the Sand Shoals Bridge was washed away, red clay exposed under the road and pavement gone.
In Houston, there were nine power outages Friday night and Saturday during the strongest portions of the storm.
Sigman said the swollen Big Piney River caused heavy damage to the Slabtown Bridge on Highway AF in north-central Texas County.
“That bridge will need close inspection before they reopen it, because they have to if water goes over the top and it was definitely over the top,” he said. “It took a pretty good jolt; something hit it so hard that the top guard rail has a big horseshoe in it.”
Many other county bridges, Sigman said, will require attention before being usable again.
“A lot of them didn’t just have debris on them, but actual trees over them,” he said. “That will need to be cut up, pushed off and cleaned up, but then there’s still running water. You cut a stump off and block the flow and you’ve created another problem.”
PROPERTY DAMAGED IN HOUSTON
Owners of businesses at U.S. 63 and Walnut Street in Houston scurried Friday in the middle of the night to save as much inventory as possible, stacking livestock feed and home improvement items in an attempt to prevent them from being overcome by the immensely swollen waters of Brushy Creek.
“I lost just about everything,” said Mike Brannan, owner of Ozark Resale Company. “I hope I can recover from this.”
“I stacked up as much feed as I could and I moved my aluminum trailer at about 3:30 to make sure it didn’t float away,” said Beasley Feed owner Randy Beasley.
After another heavy downpour around 3 p.m. Saturday, a frequent trouble spot resurfaced at Brushy Creek. A propane tank and dumpster were seen floating down the stream near Oak Hill Drive and Highway F (Walnut Street). Sharp Shooters, a pawnshop, and nearby Miller’s Garage had water in the structures. Owner Rustin Miller and his wife, Kristie, quickly pulled items from the building as water rose to thigh level. Two parked vehicles outside the business had to be pulled to dry land.
BOILING SPRINGS RESORT HIT HARD
At Boiling Springs Resort on Highway BB west of Licking, co-owners Joaquin Torrans and Jennifer Bernard said the resort was all but entirely eliminated. The iconic general store collapsed in on itself, only one of nine cabin rental units was left standing – although it was damaged beyond repair – and the “triplex” rental unit across from the store remained standing but was damaged beyond repair.
The doublewide mobile home where Torrans, Bernard and their two children called home was completely washed away.
The family had endured a catastrophic flood shortly after buying the resort in late 2015, and had steadily rebuilt the business since.
“I couldn’t look this time,” Bernard said. “It’s kind of like watching somebody die.”
The couple said they have plans to reopen again, even perhaps offering tent camping and RV hookups by Memorial Day.
“It’s ‘t-minus 27’ and counting,” Bernard said Tuesday.
LIGHTNING STRIKE KILLS 32 COWS
A veterinarian confirmed 32 certified organic cows died from a lightning strike after Texas County dairy farmer Jared Blackwelder found them dead on his property Saturday afternoon.
“I went down over the hill and seen them laying there,” an emotional Blackwelder told USA Today. “They were just piled on top of each other. They were huddled up, trying to get out of rain.
“It’s not like they are pets. But the ones I’m milking, I’ve raised every one of them,” he said. “Dairy cattle are a little different because you mess with them twice a day. It knocks you hard.”
Blackwelder said he has insurance, but he’s not sure if it will cover his total loss. His cows are certified organic and about twice the price of conventional cattle, he said. He estimated each cow was worth $2,000-$2,500 for a total loss of more than $60,000.
Blackwelder still has about 120 cows remaining on his farm just outside of Cabool.
RECOVERY WILL TAKE TIME
Emergency management director Keith Follin and the three Texas County commissioners met Monday morning with 11 of the county’s 17 townships. The hardest hit was Cass Township, with $1 million in damage.
Follin said he has been in touch with emergency agencies for assistance with flood relief. But with more damage in West Plains and other areas, he believes assistance might take some time.
Sigman is hopeful that government funding will eventually allow for Army Corps of Engineers crews to bring in heavy equipment to fix the roads.
“The townships really have their hands full, and I don’t think any of them have the loaders and things they’re going to need,” he said. “Graders aren’t going to fix everything this time.
“It’s going to be a process.”
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday released guidance on recent flooding.
The DNR Disaster Resources webpage — dnr.mo.gov/disaster.htm — provides fact sheets to aid in both preparing for and recovering from recent floods, and reporting any potential hazardous substance containers or propane tanks that have been affected by the flooding.
Individuals using private wells that may have been flooded may contact their local health public agencies for a free water test and boil order procedures. The Texas County Health Department’s number is 417-967-4131.
The southwest Missouri DNR office number is Southwest Regional Office – 417-891-4300.