Last week's blasting of the levee in Southeast Missouri impacted a large number of people. More than 130,000 acres of farm land in the spillway were flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers' relieving record setting river levels.
Missouri Director of Agriculture Jon Hagler says his heart goes out to the farm families across the region that were impacted in the region both in the spillway and on the backside of the river. With half of New Madrid and Mississippi counties underwater and sandbagging in other areas to stem the tide, Hagler says there is no way to overstate the lives that are being impacted.
On Thursday and Friday Hagler held roundtable discussions with those who have been struck by this hardship. Sessions were held in Charleston, New Madrid, Caruthersville and Popular Bluff.
"When you set down with those farm families and talk about the impact on their lives, I think that one of the things that comes across is that this is not a tradeoff of lives on one side of the river versus farm land on this side of the river," Hagler said. "There are lives on both sides that are impacted. There's families that have lost everything they've worked hard for the last 70 years to build; their homes, their houses, their farm ground. We're going to have to do everything we can to get them back up on their feet."
Hagler says not only is it the right thing to do, but because they are so important economically to this entire region and the state. He says they have been in contact with USDA and Secretary Tom Vilsack and the federal agency has been very responsive to the situation.
"They've assured us that those folks that are inside the spillway, if they had insurance, it wouldn't be impacted by the fact it was an intentional breach," Hagler said. "That's the first step. The second step is what we do for those people didn't have flood insurance. If the levee had held the amount of damage from a foot or two feet of water going through your home is a lot different than 15 feet of water and the prolonged length of time that that water is going to be in there, so we are going to have to wait and see what that damage is."
Hagler says it's important to give those families assistance for their homes but also rehabilitate the farm ground, which will take some time and effort. Part of that will be getting a temporary levee built and a permanent levee put back in place and start rebuilding these lives.
"I think it is important that as we move forward we begin taking a comprehensive look, but not just in the short term," Hagler said. "Getting people back up on their feet is most important, getting their lives back, getting their farmland back in productivity. That's obviously of foremost importance. But secondarily we're going to have to take a look at federal policies surrounding this issue and make sure that as we move forward that we revise the flood plan and we have it reflect today's reality, not the reality of the 1920s and 30s."