WEST ALTON, MO. - Coming and going from the Tarpley household these days requires a ladder and some rope.
The West Alton family says they took a major financial hit recovering from the floods of December 2015.
“We had a lot of memories we lost in the house. We had to pretty much gut it,” said Ron Tarpley.
So, faced with two rising rivers again this week, they decided to put their house of 14 years on wood stilts.
“This was the better alternative," Tarpley said. "We just spent 16 months of hell trying to overcome everything.”
That means, until the new basement is enclosed and stairs can be installed, the family is climbing a ladder to get in and out of their back door.
They’ve also rigged up a makeshift pulley system to help transport various things like groceries.
“This is how we carry the dogs in and out too,” Tarpley joked.
Right now, the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, which surround West Alton, are still rising ahead of their projected crests later in the week.
As such, floodwater is getting closer and closer to overtopping the levees that protect the small community of about 500 people.
Residents spent a lot of time beefing up the levee that Highway 94 runs over with extra piles of dirt, rocks and sand.
“It’s very unpredictable about what it’s going to do. It’s right at the top of the levees,” said Craig Sonbker.
Sonbker, who’s originally from the Grafton area, now owns Broadway Fish and also took a direct hit in 2015.
“I’ve seen a lot of floods. They used to be fun. They’re not anymore,” he said.
On the entrance to his business, there’s a high water mark from two years ago scribbled in marker. Sonbker says he’d like to avoid adding another one.
“I got with my gut with about everything. I want to believe we’re going to make it,” he said.
But the career fisherman said there’s nothing people in West Alton can do in the meantime but wait and brace for impact.
“It could hold. It could be gone five minutes from now. It’s a time bomb waiting to go off,” Sonbker said.
A voluntary evacuation order remains in effect for West Alton, but the elderly and people on special medicine are encouraged to leave.
Fire officials are working to get extra dirt and sand to help re-direct floodwater should it overtop the levees.
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