The battle continues

JENNIFER FRANCIS stands outside a barn on the south side of Hardin. The backsides of two pickups are barely visible in the water beside the structure.

HARDIN – In uttering the stirring line, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” Shakespeare’s King Henry V refers to a man-versus-man battle.

Hardin’s sandbag army is at war with nature.

Over the weekend, they hold the line. Mostly. There are losses – Route J is closed due to water and outlying buildings take on water. The battle continues.

Invading flood water reaches outlying houses and other structures on the city’s south side. Jennifer Francis says her place lost a small combine, a Case tractor and pickup trucks, and water is in a couple of barns near the house.

“We tried to get everything out of our barn,” she says about 7:45 a.m. Monday after working until about 3 a.m. “We moved 500 pounds of soybeans out of there. ... It came up so quick. Three days ago, it was just a little bit of water.”

Scores of volunteers in Hardin have stood toe-to-toe against wave after wave of flood water since mid-March. They shore up the levee system, the only wall of defense between the community and the surging Missouri and Crooked rivers. The army wages war with shovels, sand and bags. 

Regardless of age and other obligations, they battle under a hot sun, sweating, skin reddening, all day long Saturday at Hardin City Hall. They come again Sunday, then Monday. Residents and volunteers from Richmond, Liberty and elsewhere – including Ray County Jail inmates and the Air National Guard members from Rosecrans and Whiteman – engage in hard labor to protect the town of 538 residents. 

“We’ve got 37 and Whiteman Air Force Base is here and they’ve got 10,” Master Sgt. Lora Martinez says.

Community volunteers also have come and gone from the front lines over the past several days.

“My parents want me to help the town,” Kenna Oglesby, 14, says immediately after loading a sandbag in defense of Hardin Saturday. She has loaded bags for two days. “My back hurts, but it’s OK.”

Alongside daughter Kenna and son, Logan, 8, Trish Dickey shovels sand from one of several piles into a bag managed by her husband, Ryan Dickey.

“Our house is the one on Buffalo Road that’s about to go under,” she says.

The Missouri and Crooked rivers have flowed, lapped and climbed up and down against levees in southern Ray County since mid-March. Volunteers and levee district leaders have helped the levees to hold, but parts of the system are soggy. Puddles are visible atop the Missouri River levee east and west of the Ike Skelton Bridge.

Along Highway 10, Hardin Cemetery again is threatened. Invasive flood water divides the grounds almost in half. Backwater is over parts of the cemetery’s internal roads and attacks hills on which graves are buried. The 1993 flood pushed many caskets out of the ground and sent them downriver. The backwater Monday does not appear to pose that threat for now, but there is no certainty about what might happen with the potential for more rain throughout the week, levee breaks and water released from reservoirs.

Lillian Lyon, 11, lugs a heavy bag of sand toward a growing pile outside City Hall. 

“This is to make sure that the levees hold and that the town’s safe,” she says.

Lyon has been on the job with her family for three days. Blake and Colin Lyon dig their shovels into a hill of sand alongside their sister, Lillian, and mother, Stacy Davidson.

“If we save the levees, we save the town. It’s critical, at this point,” Davidson says. 

About an hour upriver from Hardin, the levee at Levasy in eastern Jackson County suffers from two breaches Saturday that force evacuations. Reports state the Egypt Levee, serving Ray, Clay and Jackson counties, failed; another small breach occurs on the east side the Belcher-Lozier Levee, which is part of the Ray-Carroll Levee District; and water for a time spills over the Henrietta-Crooked River Drainage and Levee District levee in Ray County.

Tracy Sisson, 54, Richmond, and a friend, Nancy Crawford, 42, Hardin, work as a team to shovel and load bags to defend the town.

“My house is going to be underwater,” Crawford says, “if the levee breaks.”

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