ALEXANDER COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - Alexander County residents got some much needed relief Saturday, Feb. 27 from the effects of the devastating New Year Flood that hit parts of the Heartland back in January.
County officials and volunteers came together to help clean up nearly a dozen properties that had been damaged by floodwaters.
"I just thank Alexander County and all these fine young men that helped us today because it was a help," Terrie Harter said. "I don't know what we would've done with all the trash that we had left. We burned a lot of it but so it was much needed."
Several dozen volunteers helped load up trash, drywall and other items in the communities of Olive Branch, Miller City, Hughes Park/Unity and Gale.
Much of what was hauled away included toys, grills, chairs, beds and other miscellaneous items.
Many residents were hoping to still be able to salvage personal documents and photos.
"A lot of memories," Harter said. "We were just going through letters that my dad sent to my mom from Korea when he was in the Army. So we're trying to dry those out so we can save those memories. Hospital bills when the kids were born, all of us kids were born."
"So many things," volunteer Olivia Gordon said. "As we look through family pictures and family history binders and bibles and things like that that were just absolutely ruined. And those things are irreplaceable."
The state of Illinois reported more than 15 million dollars in damage for federal help, according to Alexander County Board Chairman Tatum Chalen; the amount needed ended up being more than 18 million dollars.
And as for receiving any help from the state, Tatum believes the budget stalemate will play a significant role in that.
"The state has no money available except for small business loans," Tatum said. "We had $800,000 worth of damage to water lines, flood gates, water pipes and land. That's not including homes, though."
Many Alexander County residents said on Saturday that their local government has been a huge help throughout the aftermath and cleanup of the New Year Flood. Where the state and federal government have fallen short, some residents believe it is their local government that has kept them afloat, .
"You know that your people closest to you have your back," Harter said. "The smaller the government, like the city government and county government, they take care of you. I think Illinois is in so much trouble that this does not affect them at all. So I don't think we will get any help further than this."
As you drive through the Miller City area in Alexander County, debris can still be seen scattered about from the flood. Much of the farmland in the area is no more, now covered with sand and dirt. And some roads are still not even accessible, as they have been washed away by the floodwaters.
"You wonder what that's going to mean for farmers this summer." Alexander County State's Attorney Zach Gowin said. "You see the logs and all the debris come in from the river that's on those fields and people's yards. And you see people that are in their homes. They've made them habitable and their going in and fixing them up. That's where we're at. We're still working it and trying to get it cleaned up."
And even as of Saturday, the county was still experiencing flooding.
With the Lens Small levee still not repaired, the Mississippi River continues to flow through onto Alexander County lands.
For now, it's an extension of the river that is not supposed to be in the county.
Alexander County officials said there is one very real concern here: the navigation of barge traffic.
"With that break in the levee, that is going to affect river traffic and that's a big part of our national economy," Gowin said. "With the way the current goes and things, if there's a break in the levee there, that changes the way those boats are going to be navigating up and down the river."
If the river creates a new path in Alexander County, many states in the country would feel the impact, officials say.
The particular stretch of land in question is an area of concern that could potentially cripple shipping on the Mississippi River. Officials said if the river keeps pushing through the Lens Small levee break there, it could potentially create a new path for the river, ultimately cutting off about a 14 mile stretch.
This would allow the river there to flow much faster, which would not allow barges to travel north in that area. This would affect all states along the Mississippi River that navigate shipping routes through that area.
In the meantime, Tatum said the Corps of Engineers has installed dikes on the northern and southern portions of the levee break, leaving the middle portion open; the purpose for the dikes is to help control the possibility of water rushing through the gap, and help sustain navigation along the 14 mile stretch of river in question.
Tatum said the goal is to close up that gap completely, and that the Corps of Engineers will have designs for that sometime in March.
As for now, the county still has many hurdles ahead of them, including a broken levee which leaves a welcome mat down for future flooding.
However on Saturday, residents were united and even stronger as they continue to fight the effects of the New Year Flood.
"To see impact that not only you're having, but the impact that people are willing to stop what they're doing and help each other," Gordon said. "And that's something that I think in our day in age of go go go, that we kind of lose. To step back and really think about our neighbors."