WATSON, Missouri — The airboat’s engine throws its roar and spray across the flooded field, a place where corn would be eye-high most every July.
Water has covered this ground since the middle of March, the nearby Missouri and Nishnabotna rivers having spilled over and through levees.
Several miles away, at the kitchen table in her Watson home, Annie Wakefield recalls that day four months ago and describes the mystery of a government seeing a single flood as a divided event.
“To me, it’s the flood of 2019,” she said on Tuesday. “It’s continuing. It’s ongoing.”
For her, then, it makes no sense that the damage to her home, and those of this village’s other residents, will not be covered by the presidential disaster declaration signed last week.
The declaration assigns the incident period as “April 29 and continuing.” That is, Wakefield’s departure from her home on March 16, leaving her driveway through water three-quarters of the way up her truck tires, happened more than six weeks before the federal clock started ticking.
Individual assistance promised in the July 9 disaster declaration will go to some but not all Northwest Missourians with property damage from flooding this spring.
“We got hung out to dry on that first flood,” said Rod Meinders, another Watson resident. “That’s about as simple as you can state it.”
Watson has about 100 residents. The village resides west of Interstate 29 in Atchison County, between the highway and the Missouri River.
West Street in Watson, on which the community building and the fire station sit, did not see floodwaters in 2011 or 1993, Meinders said. It did in March.
That water receded, leaving its damage. Flooding remains cozied up to the edges of the community. Along Route D, just a little southeast of town, water covered a portion of the road on Tuesday. With grim humor, locals call the body of water running alongside this road Lake Watson.
Wakefield, who stayed in a motel in Rock Port until March 25 while 22 inches of water sat in her garage, registered this week for individual assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She praised the courtesy of the FEMA workers but did not like their assessment: she probably did not qualify.
Rhonda Wiley, the emergency management director for Atchison County, has been working with FEMA on the flood response. The federal government, she said, split the flooding into two separate disasters. Those in the first of these have been denied the aid.
“I understand their criteria, but the fact is, if you’re flooded, you’re flooded,” Wiley said.
“Keep in mind there has been quite a bit of confusion, but from what I understand now, if they were still flooded on April 29, which a lot of people were, then they do qualify for some individual assistance,” she added.
For Wakefield and others, that distinction does not offer help.
Curtis Livengood, presiding commissioner of Atchison County, has heard from his constituents and tried to intercede on their behalf. But he has run into the same explanations and limitations.
“From my standpoint as a county commissioner, it’s sure frustrating,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out what we can do about it, but I’m not sure we’re going to get anywhere.”
The situation has implications downriver, as well. “There’s been lots of discussion all over the whole state,” said Bill Brinton, emergency management director for Buchanan County, also covered in the presidential declaration.
Like Wiley, he understood that the flooding in March did not reach a needed threshold of damage or destruction to be included for FEMA help.
Brinton added, though, that homeowners in this earlier period might be eligible for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.
Buchanan County Commissioner Ron Hook, whose Western District abuts the Missouri River, found the federal date differential hard to explain.
“The date doesn’t coincide with what the flood event was,” he said. “My idea is they’re sticking to these dates and they’re not going to fluctuate from them.”
North Missouri Congressman Sam Graves, in whose 6th District a number of flood-affected counties reside, said Thursday that the disaster declaration “authorizing individual assistance covers the dates from April 29 to July 5.”
Homes that sustained damage between those dates should have their latest date of damages recorded, under “Loss Date,” on the application for individual assistance.
“I understand this process is confusing,” he said. “If you have questions or if you have been denied assistance for any reason, please contact my St. Joseph office at 816-749-0800.”
FEMA will today have a disaster recovery center in Atchison County. It will be at the University Extension, Velma Houts Building, at 201 East U.S. Highway 136 in Rock Port. The hours will be 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Another center will open today in Holt County, at the Mound City High School, 708 Nebraska St., with the same hours.