July 24, 2007

Post-flood clean-up

“Black Star”Clean-up at Alligator Cove
June 23, 2007
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Melanie Cheney
Bouncing Back
Many of the news stories of the Flood of 07 focused on the bursting of agricultural levees in Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas. For those that live right on the Missouri River, without levees, it was one long river of heartbreak. But floods are a part of life on the river, and these tough people cry when they need to but get right back up and rebuild.

Of course no one deserves the overwhelming work and loss that a flood brings, but river folks do know that eventually it’s going to happen. It takes vision, strength and community for folks to go through it and come back to the river. But they know that they have to get back, and the only way to do it is through a lot of hard work and calling in your friends to help get it done.

When floodwaters reshape your world, it becomes an opportunity to start a new vision, to clean up and make things even better.

At Alligator Cove (Rivermile 343), John Breyfogle had built a perfect riverside haven. Beneath towering cottonwoods was a cabin on pontoons, a two-tiered deck made from an decommissioned pontoon boat overlooking the river, and a music stage built on the flatbed of an old two-ton truck.

These things all got destroyed in the flood, which filled up and coursed through the whole place. John’s house was covered in mud, and all the carpet had to be ripped out. With the help of friends and family, and countless hours of after-work effort, the place was cleaned out, mud was scraped, utilities gotten up and running, the barn reorganized, the salsa garden replanted, John’s tiller dismantled and worked back into shape.

Demolition Derby
John figured his friends in River Relief would be good for doing some of the big teardown work. He put together a work day and invited us all out. Vicki arranged for a scrap dumpster and Michael cooked up some food. Racin’ Dave and John Jansen brought cutting torches and everyone showed up with a smattering of hand tools. Folks left Columbia around six, and everyone convened at the cove. Nick Recker, Stephanie Williams and her partner Ken surprised us all and showed up with tools.

It was a long day of destruction.

As we tore the rotting stage off the back of the truck, Racin Dave busted out his tools and started dismantling the cab, gas tank first. He shook his head and said, “This is one of those things where you just take off a week and go after it.” And then, with Lindsay’s help, he proceeded to reduce the truck to an engine block, a pile of plastic and upholstery and countless chunks of steel cut into three-foot pieces for scrapping. All in one non-stop day, before dinner.

Jeff Barrow, Michael and the John B’s focused on the “floating” cabin. The beautiful little cabin on pontoons did float, but was toppled by the force of the current, smashing the building and loosening the structure. The windows and any good lumber or siding was salvaged, but everything else went to the burn pile or dumpster. Nails were pulled, and the John B’s (Brady and Breyfogle) went at the pontoons with dueling chop saws.

Here's the cabin as they started working on it...

This is what was left when they were done...

During the flood, the deck overlook collapsed when the bank underneath slid into the river. Nick, Stephanie, Ken and Melanie worked it all day, pulling nails and stacking the joists and decking up on the remaining deck. All together, we probably filled a five gallon bucket with nails pulled from salvaged lumber. John Jansen came after work with his torch, and worked on an old piece of a dredge.

Anthony, Jeanie, Janie and Steve moved from project to project, helping the teardown when needed, picking up trash between stages of the destruction, preparing food.

Dinner was fantastic, and we gathered, exhausted around the campfire at night. John thanked everyone for helping, and, laughing, passed out black star pins as a reminder of the day.

It’ll be a while before John can move back in, but he’s excited that now he has a reason to build a home up on stilts. The vision of this place has definitely not been washed away, but it’s a fresh new beginning and we are all excited to see it blossom again.

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