CALHOUN COUNTY — Getting around Calhoun County, must less the region, has been a lesson in patience for the residents there, as flood waters have wreaked havoc on several communities along the Illinois River. For weeks, there has been one way in and one way out, by car. A drive from Hardin to Alton usually takes less than an hour. Now, it takes three to four with the Joe Page Bridge in Hardin closed. During the Great Flood of 1993, it took four months for that bridge to reopen.
The Brussels Ferry and Kampsville Ferry are also not operating. If rain stays away, the hope is those will reopen in July, but no one knows for sure. Until then, some people who work east of the Illinois River have been living on that side during the week, returning to see if their home is still dry on the weekend. Others have been using boats or kayaks to get across the river and flooded fields where they have a second car stationed.
Parishioners from Catholic churches across the county have been working hand in hand with their communities to help sandbag, provide flood-fighting materials and food, and pump water. Blessed Trinity Parish consists of St. Mary in Brussels, St. Joseph in Meppin, and St. Barbara in Batchtown. St. Francis of Assisi Parish consists of St. Norbert in Hardin, St. Michael in Michael, and St. Anselm in Kampsville. St. Anselm is the only church of the six to have sandbags surrounding it. It has remained dry.
Father Don Roberts, pastor at both parishes, says the tireless efforts from people, working together to hold the water back and hauling materials to homes and businesses has been uplifting.
“It’s heartwarming to see people put aside their own conveniences and pursuits to help other people,” Father Roberts said. “It’s dramatic to see them out there. And, it’s not like they are just out there, they are working hard. It’s hard work sandbagging.”
Like St. Anselm, several parishioners have homes or businesses that are surrounded by water with sandbags being the difference between OK and devastation. That includes Jennifer Roth of St. Francis of Assisi Parish. Originally from Calhoun County, Roth and her family moved from Alton back to the area to be closer to family six months ago. She is training to be the bookkeeper for the parish. She and her husband have been constantly watching the water levels around their home as water surrounds it. Right now, sandbags are holding the water back and six pumps are sending any leaky water back out. But there has been constant worry.
“My husband sleeps just a few hours at a time, constantly checking the pumps,” Roth said. “There have been a few times there were leaks in the wall or pumps stopped working. It’s constant monitoring. The community here is amazing. We have a sandbag wall that is about 5 feet tall. It took all the volunteers nearly three days to get the perimeter of our house high enough. They even came back later to add more after we thought it wasn’t going to be high enough. So, the people here are amazing.”
As expected, Mass attendance has been sparse at best as parishioners have either been unable to get to there or they are on the other side of the river. Even a post office has been moved to a different facility in order for the mail to continue. Food pantries have been set up around Calhoun County.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish partnered with the St. Louis area food bank. During one of their distributions in Hardin, they provided 170 families, or over 383 people who have been impacted by the flooding, with 20,000 pounds of food.
“Food and gasoline are the trickiest for most of us,” said Maria Carmody of St. Francis of Assisi Parish. “Prior to the flooding, we had a grocery store, a Dollar General, and a small convenience store at our one gas station. We could easily obtain other food items within a 30-minute drive to Jerseyville, Carrollton, or south to Batchtown or Brussels. We had five restaurants just in the Hardin area alone. Now, we have the Dollar General, the convenience store, and a Subway. A local tavern has stepped up to cook donated food for volunteers in the area, so that has helped. To get produce now, for example, it’s a three-hour drive to get to Pittsfield. We have to be very mindful to gas up our cars while in Hardin or while we are out of the county. It’s not uncommon to find cars off to the side, out of gas. We have to be extra mindful to carry additional gas cans to take home fuel for ATVs, tractors and such.”
Thankfully, over the past couple of weeks, water across the region has receded.