Governor activates National Guard for flood assistance

By Jamie Hausman

JEFFERSON CITY – Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard on Monday in response to the flooding of the Black River near Poplar Bluff. The executive order came just three days after the governor declared a state of emergency from the tornado that tore through St. Louis last Friday.

“Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner has mobilized 200 citizen soldiers and airmen to report initially to the Poplar Bluff area to assist with flood relief there,” said Maj. Tammy Spicer, public affairs officer for the Missouri National Guard.

Governor spokesman Scott Holste said the National Guard’s missions will include helping with traffic control, making sure residents have appropriate power and evacuating people from flooded areas. Spicer added that their missions will be standard for flood response and would include door-to-door safety checks and sandbagging.

Because flooding of the Black River happens in many cases of bad weather, DeGaris said there will be post-flood evaluations taking place in Poplar Bluff to make plans for the future.

“We’ll reevaluate and see if there’s anything we can do to improve in preparation for — God forbid — another one,” he said. “Anything that could make the citizens in our districts and our area safer, we’ll take whatever precautions we can to make that feasible.”

Holste said the emergency declaration made on Friday for the St. Louis tornadoes means he can extend resources to assist the areas impacted by flooding.

“On Friday the governor did declare a state of emergency, which activated state emergency operations center, and there’s flexibility in that,” Holste said. “Once that step is taken, it can not only respond to something that had happened right then, which was the tornadoes, but it’s also open to be able to continue responding to situations like the flooding we have in southeast Missouri.”

Holste also said the governor has been watching the flood conditions for several days, as well as receiving updates from the Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Safety. The decision to issue an executive order came after local officials in affected areas asked the governor for more resources.

“The Missouri National Guard is not mobilized until Missouri exceeds its local resources,” Spicer said. “After local authorities feel they can no longer provide the citizens the response they need, they let the governor know and he mobilizes the guard.”

The flooding of the Black River isn’t new to Ed DeGaris, the mayor of Poplar Bluff. He said the flooding is almost identical to a situation they had in 2008 when river levels reached 21.7 feet. So far, the river levels have reached 20.8 feet, and DeGaris expects them to go higher than the 2008 record.

A shelter has been set up in the Black River Coliseum, a 5,000-seat concert and meeting venue, to accommodate the hundreds of people already evacuated from their homes.

DeGaris said this evacuation has gone a lot smoother than the one in 2008 because a portable levee wall was put up early and residents were contacted to evacuate earlier. He commended the state agencies for communicating efficiently.

“There’s just all kinds of agencies and the cooperation they’re giving to all of us is just phenomenal,” DeGaris said. “… They’re all just working as one big team to make the citizens as safe as possible.”

Holste said it is too early to say if they’ll ask for a federal disaster declaration.

“We’ll look at whatever resources we can bring to bear in this situation and down the road in trying to look at some of those response costs,” Holste said. “If it means asking for a federal disaster declaration, we are always prepared to do that if the situtation warrants it.”

On Saturday, Nixon flew in a Blackhawk National Guard helicopter to view tornado damage in the St. Louis area from an aerial standpoint. The governor is expected to make travel plans to the flooded area in Poplar Bluff in the next few days, Holste said.

Spicer said this is the 19th time the Missouri National Guard has mobilized for state emergency duty since 2005.