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Tossed Out

Mud and Moonscape: Missouri towns struggle with flood recovery

Atchison County Sheriff Dennis Martin called the land that the floodwaters left behind in Corning, Mo., "moonscape ... It is pure sand dunes. Before the weeds started growing up it looked like the moon."(Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media)

Back in April, Harvest Public Media’s Grant Gerlock headed to Tekamah, Neb., to see how planting was going for farmers on the Missouri River floodplain. The river's surging waters put thousands of farm acres in Nebraska under water last summer, causing more than $100 million in crop losses in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

A year after the flood waters subsided, many communities on the banks of the Missouri River are still trying to recover. One of them is Corning, Mo., and I visited the 15-person town during a trip to Northwest Missouri last weekend with a group of science journalists.

Corning's St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church was especially hard-hit by the flood. The 1893 Gothic Revival church and wooden schoolhouse sit at the edge of farmland about two miles from the Missouri River, at 112 Walters St. The church sustained flood damages during 1952 and 1993. But the 2011 flood forced the church to shut its doors. Church elders are still trying to figure out if and how they will re-open.

"It is tremendously stressful," said Atchison County Sheriff Dennis Martin, looking at some of the nearby land still covered with sand from the flood. "We're going to see crop ground when we get back up the road here that has been renovated and the expense they are going to to try to get this back in production has got to be phenomenal. But it is their life … the ones that live on the Bottom – it’s their home." 

Photo captions:

Photo 1: St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Corning, Mo. closed its doors after the Missouri River waters rose three feet high. Then the water sat there for months.

Photo 2: A mud line marks how high the waters went on the 1893 Gothic Revival building.

Photo 3: A toilet graveyard sits behind the church.

Photo 4: The one-room 1912 schoolhouse behind the church is still caked with dried-up mud the river left behind. It also sustained water damage in 1952 and 1993.

Photo 5: The waters put this schoolhouse stove under water. Church elders don't know if and how they will re-open the church.

Photo 6: But Atchison County Sheriff Dennis Martin says Corning is resilient. "We're going to see crop ground when we get back up the road here that has been renovated and the expense they are going to try to get this back in production has got to be phenomenal," he said, standing beside land covered in sand.  "But it is their life … the ones that live on the Bottom – it’s their home."

Photo 7: Sheriff Martin called the land still covered with sand a year after surging Missouri River waters receded "moonscape ... It is pure sand dunes. Before the weeds started growing up, it looked like the moon."