EAST CAPE GIRARDEAU, Ill. (KFVS) - A work team with the Illinois Department of Corrections is started to removing sandbags in East Cape Girardeau on Monday December 9.
The 4,000 yards of sandbags walls in and around the small village protected many of it’s citizens during historic flood of 2019.
The first sandbags were delivered to town and placed by local high school students back in May.
Now months after the waters receded, residents say the decaying flood barriers have became an eye sore and a nuisance.
Betty Dunn has lived in East Cape for 15 years. During a normal Halloween she said more than 100 trick-or-treaters visit her house.
“This year I only had 17. A lot of people have left and nobody is returning because they’re afraid,” Dunn said. “It looks like a ghost town, and seeing it like this hurts. Maybe once they get the sandbags removed people will come back.”
More than a dozen inmates and DOC staff from two state prisons in Southern Illinois are starting to disassemble the hundreds of thousands of sandbags still in East Cape Girardeau.
Unit Superintendent Jason Henton says they are throwing away the empty sandbags and plastic wrapping, and the Illinois Department of Transportation will pick up and reuse the extra sand.
“They want it separated out so they can deal with it better and make it easier for their equipment to handle and process," Henton said. ”We’re putting our minds into it. We’re putting our backs into it. We’re putting a whole lot of work into it. Everybody is enjoying the fact that these offenders can give back to a community that maybe they are not part of."
Henton said sandbags that are on roads and right-of-way areas will be removed first.
For months a sandbag fortress built on Brookwood Drive has been blocking traffic.
Former Pastor Raymond Oxford said it’s the only road to allow parishioners access to East Cape Baptist Church.
“When it’s blocked off that shuts the church down," Oxford said. "This is the best news we’ve heard in a long time. It would be one of the best Christmas presents ever to get the road back open again and get back to normal, like we was before the flood.”
It’s expected to take weeks for the inmates to remove approximately 500,000 sandbags spread throughout East Cape Girardeau.
“In not in no hurry though," Oxford said. “Whatever it takes just as long as they get rid of them.”
“I’m just glad the sandbags are leaving," Dunn added. “That will probably make the town a lot happier."
Superintendent Henton said the work crews are constantly supervised and only made up of non-violent offenders.
In a given month Henton said the Impact Incarceration programs in Illinois give communities upwards of 2,000 hours of free labor.