I took off from Lenexa, KS on Friday afternoon headed for Big Lake, Missouri since I had heard that water levels just hit unprecedented levels.
On my journey north, and after passing Oregon, MO, it occurred to me that there wasn’t much southbound traffic on I-29, likely due to the highway closure in Rock Port, MO. But then I started seeing caravans of semi-trailers in batches- 5 here, 10 there, then a group of about 20 – all heading south.
Getting off of the main interstate at Squaw Creek/Mound City, MO, it was no surprise when I started seeing “road closed” signs and groups of camouflage Humvees heading in the same direction I was, but the message was sort of deceiving. Why would they close the road almost 10 miles from the Missouri River, how bad was it, and how close could I get?
This is the first view I had at the impending doom: I went around the signs, and turned North- not making eye contact with any of the military personnel- Why? I of course had 2 kayaks attached to my roof, and I figured they would try and stop me if I kept heading West.
It was a gamble heading North, because heading North meant dropping a few feet in elevation and heading through the town of Fortescue. On the drive up, I heard on the radio that they evacuated the town just a day before.
I made it- Population 51, Currently “0″.I pulled over on dry piece of ground and went for a walk through the ghost town. I was surprised that there wasn’t a single soul anywhere- not even military or police. There was water literally leaching-up through the grass so I stuck to the railroad tracks and walked West as far as I could go:
The actual floodwater was being held back by this levy (you can see it to the left of the bridge), but right here where the railroad crossed this little creek, I could hear the deafening roar of water and the closer I got, there was vibration on the railroad tracks. It then occurred to me that the water on the other side of the bridge was actually higher than I was. The only thing holding all that water back was a virtual “choking-mat” of floating debris pinned up against the bridge. The water was so pressurized, it was percolating through the mat of logs and corn stalks and was spewing into the gaps of wooden ties on the bridge- just 50 ft. away!I figured there was probably a good reason why no one was in this town, so I quickly made up my mind to keep heading North. Once I came to a “T” in the highway, it was either West or retreat to the East. Knowing I was about 3 miles from the actual river channel, I decided pull alongside a couple of humvees and ask how far West I could legally go. They told me ” I guess you could head-in as far as you want, but if the water overtakes the road, you’re on your own buddy“- I think they gave me the go ahead since the kayaks would potentially make their jobs of rescuing me a little easier.
So around the “road closed” sign, over the levy and West I headed:Water was slowly flowing over the road, but it looked to have been higher at a previous point, so I continued:To the left and right, there was floating barnwood, doghouses, refrigerators, plastic barrels and tons of cornstalks. The air smelled of fresh corn one minute and rotting-stink the next.
The pressure of the water transferring from one side of the road to the other made me think twice about launching the kayaks and heading into Big Lake. After all, Big Lake was 1 mile as the crow flies from this point, so if I was going to go, I started thinking about how much endurance it would take to stay on a straight course and not be taken into the barbed-wire fences on the left and right side of the road. Road signs were literally waning back and forth under the pressure and I had to come to the conclusion that unfortunately, this was probably the closest as I was going to get. I talked to a young man who was hanging behind while his family launched their motor-boat and headed into see the destruction- He said that his family owned a cabin and it had lifted off of its foundation and crumbled into the water. He was staying behind with the truck because the family wasn’t sure if where they parked the truck was going to be there when they got back, the water was transferring under the road through drainage tubes and Boiling up just 15 feet away from their vehicle. Basically, they weren’t sure if the road was going to hold. The 16 year old remained their fail-safe. He seemed pretty upbeat, saying that this was his 3rd flood at Big Lake since the family bought the cabin, but he did say that they would rebuild again.
Since I reached the end of the road, I decided to head to the next town which was under fire: Craig, Missouri.(continued on Part 2)