St. Joseph Fire Department helps community (copy)

The St. Joseph Fire Department helped residents pump flood water out of homes after flooding in the South Side.

Pam McCrary and Jim Pflugradt saw the destruction coming before it hit. A 3-foot wave of water was making its way down Lake Avenue and there was nothing they could do about it.

Pflugradt grabbed their two cats and ran into the house to gather some clothes. He threw everything in the truck and went back into the house as water started flowing in. He scanned the possessions as water creeped up to his knees. Everything was lost.

“Everything that was ruined — all the furniture, the mattress on the bed was soaked, that’s how deep the water was — king-size mattress,” McCrary said. “Everything in here was ruined. What made me sick was all my pictures, all my family stuff.”

Multiple organizations responded to the South Side flood July 20 and in the weeks to follow to aid those who lost property and possessions.

Volunteers, churches and public service agencies helped South Side residents by handing out clothes, blankets and cleaning supplies. Temporary shelter was provided for people displaced.

“Many churches, many organizations, if they weren’t feeding people or handing out water, they were getting in there busting their knuckles in helping with construction tear out,” said Ron Hook, the Buchanan County Western District Commissioner.

These public service agencies were the face of the flood relief, but the county and city also contributed.

The county spent about $45,000 for dumpsters and the removal of debris from Contrary Creek, a task that is not the county’s responsibility. According to Hook, cleaning the debris in Contrary Creek is the obligation of land owners along the creek.

“That’s the responsibility of the landowners that butt up to the creek,” Hook said. “There’s no easements for us to be able to get in and clean out the creek in certain areas. Now, we are responsible and we’ve made it a responsibility of ours at the county to clean out any debris that is jammed up against a structure which would be a bridge. We try to keep that cleaned out on a regular basis.”

The city spent more than $400,000 on flood relief. About $100,000 was for dumpsters and roughly $150,000 went to the public works department.

“We had firemen down there pumping up people’s basements, and we had city crews down there digging out the ditches that had all the gunk in them from the overflow,” said St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray. “We had all kinds of people down there working. It was a big deal.”

The city spent another $100,000 for the fire department to pump out at least 40 basements. The city also waived landfill fees, leading to a loss in revenue of about $47,700.

Despite these expenses, many South Side residents aren’t happy with the city’s response. They believe public service agencies provided more resources than the city. McCrary said if this flood had happened on the east or north end of town, the city’s support would have looked a lot different.

“If it was east end or north end or anything, they would have been all over it,” McCrary said.

However, the city only has so many funds, which is why the response from public service agencies was so important.

“No municipality has the human capital or the funding to take on a disaster of that size,” said City Councilmember Brian Myers. “Fortunately, we have a lot of players, locally and nationally, that help come together.”

It didn’t help that the city and county weren’t eligible for financial support from the state or federal government.

“This one was not big enough, according to SEMA and FEMA rules, which just frustrated me to no end that that was the case,” said McMurray. “The state and the feds didn’t come through, but the people of St. Joe came through and helped their fellow citizens get back on their feet.”

That hasn’t happened for McCrary and Pflugradt. They currently live in a camper outside a friend’s house in Gower. Nearly six months after the flood, the 71-year-old Pflugradt still is repairing their house with the help of a friend.

Pflugradt and McCrary hope to move back in soon. But without all their possessions, home won’t feel the same.

“We lost everything we had,” McCrary said. “Everything we owned. It was all paid for, wasn’t fancy by any means, but it was ours.”