Residents of Hull better prepared this time for levee break

Amanda Reavy

From sandbagging the levee to packing the last of their belongings into box trailers, residents in this small Pike County community are doing as much as they can to be prepared when the siren sounds.

“When the fire siren goes off, you run. That means the levee broke,” resident Todd Platt said Wednesday afternoon while loading the last of his family’s household items into a flatbed trailer headed for higher ground.

Hull, a town of roughly 500 about 9 miles from the Mississippi River, was under water when the levees broke during the flood of 1993.

That experience was enough to spring residents to action this time around.

“It’s so much smoother. This has been handled better this time,” said Cathy Fesler, whose family owns farmland in the Hull area. “Unfortunately, we could remember what happened last time.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, residents said the river was expected to crest late today or early Friday. Hull’s levees are a part of the Sny Island Drainage District.

Platt said he and neighbor Kirk Rueb started moving friends and other residents out of their homes starting last Friday. The men had moved five families by Wednesday and were going back for the remaining appliances in their own households.

“We took everything out but the appliances because we were hoping we wouldn’t need to. But it’s not looking too good,” Platt said of the river levels.

Wiping the sweat from his brow after loading his refrigerator onto a dolly, Platt added, “I don’t even know what day it is.”

Evacuation isn’t required, but it was recommended, residents say.

“It’s easier to move it out and back in than losing it,” Platt said of the moving process.

On Wednesday, dozens of box trailers filled to capacity sat outside homes, waiting to be moved to higher ground at a moment’s notice.

Once the levee breaks, residents have about 24 hours before floodwaters reach them.

Helping the evacuation effort were a group of volunteers from Springfield-area churches, including Rochester United Methodist Church and Sugar Creek United Methodist Church.

Rochester United Methodist Pastor Jack Swank said the Hull Methodist Church put out a call for help, and members of his congregation wanted to respond.

The group was assisting senior citizens and others who were unable to do some of the hard labor themselves.

Volunteer David Bruun of Sugar Creek United Methodist said he took a truck from Midwest Mission Distribution Center, south of Springfield, to help with the loading.

Bruun said he and other volunteers also came to assist the residents of Hull after it fell victim to floodwaters in 1993.

“Thirteen to 14 feet of water covered the town,” he recalled. “The Hull Methodist Church was destroyed.”

The church was later rebuilt on higher ground. Most of the town, however, remains in the floodwaters’ path.

The local American Red Cross has taken over the Hull Lions Community Building, providing food, water and ice to roughly 1,000 people a day who are working on the levees, Fesler said.

“We have young girls out there. It’s all generations,” she said.

Most residents are prepared for the worst but hoping for the best, she added.

Platt, his wife and three daughters are staying at his mother-in-law’s home in Quincy.

He and his family purchased their home after the 1993 flood. During that disaster, floodwaters reached the top of the windows of the one-story home.

“Something like this isn’t supposed to happen every 15 years,” Platt said. “Not in my lifetime, at least.”

Amanda Reavy can be reached at (217) 788-1525.