‘It was a miracle’ in Lesterville
Family of 5 survive
broken dam waters
By Brian Koonce
December 27, 2005
LESTERVILLE – A southeast Missouri family is thanking God they are still alive after a billion-gallon wall of water swept their home away early Dec. 14, leaving all five of them strewn across a nearby field.
Although two of the three children were released from the hospital Dec. 18, it was miracle that they survived at all.
“If anyone says it’s not a miracle, then there’s something wrong with them,” said Frank Nash, the pastor of New Hope Baptist Church 12 miles north in Middlebrook. A Hurricane Katrina-hardened Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer, he rushed to the muddy, debris-filled field just before sunrise to help with the rescue efforts of the local volunteer fire departments.
All five members of the Jerry Toops family were miraculously found alive and taken to Reynolds County Hospital in Ellington. The children were later taken to Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis for treatment. Five-year-old Tanner has been upgraded to fair condition, according to a Dec. 22 Associated Press report. He reportedly is suffering from hypothermia, swallowed water and various bruises and abrasions. Three-year-old Tara and 7-month-old Tucker have been released.
Jerry and Lisa Toops and their children lived in Johnson’s Shut-in State Park, where Jerry is the park superintendent, less than a mile from the Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Plant.
Bill Jackson is pastor of First Baptist Church, Lesterville, where the family attends. He described what happened immediately after the dam broke.
Lisa was up with Tucker and Tanner around 5:30 a.m., when a failure in the wall of the Taum Sauk’s upper reservoir caused a wall of water to cascade down Proffit Mountain and across the east fork of the Black River into the state park. As the family was swept out of their home, Lisa managed to hold onto seven-month-old Tucker, but lost her grip on Tanner’s hand. Miraculously she soon recovered him in shallow water, nearly a quarter mile from the concrete slab that used to be their home.
Lisa’s shouts woke her husband, who was immediately swept away as the house disintegrated. Realizing that the reservoir had burst, he caught hold of a tree and waited for the water to quickly recede.
“But they didn’t know where Tara was,” Jackson said.
Nash was near when rescuers found Tara and he helped her into a truck to take her to an ambulance when she was found huddled near a crumbled piece of wall at 7:15 a.m., nearly two hours after the avalanche of water destroyed the home.
“Her eyes were wide open just like she was in shock,” he said.
“It was just a miracle,” Nash said. “I was blessed to see them still alive.”
One other home and several vehicles were destroyed by the flood, but no one else was seriously injured.
Rescuers aren’t the only ones calling the Toops’ survival a miracle.
“This family has given credit to God for saving them,” Jackson said. “They know it’s a miracle. They want to thank Him first. But second, they want to thank the people who have petitioned the Lord on their behalf.”
Jackson said the Toops family is very active in the small-town church’s life.
“Lisa works with the children on Sunday morning and Sunday night with TeamKids.” he said. “She and Jerry both are very dedicated Christians who spend a lot of time with their kids. The children are well-behaved and very sharp.”
First Baptist Church opened a fund to benefit the Toops family at First State Community Bank. To contribute, call 573-756-4547 and ask about the Toops Family Trust.
The 42-year-old Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Power Plant reservoir is a “pumped-storage” facility a half-mile east of Johnson’s Shut-ins. It stores water from the Black River in the upper reservoir, built atop 1,590-foot-high Proffit Mountain, and releases the water to generate electricity when power is needed. When power demand is low, the same turbines run in reverse to pump water back to the upper reservoir. AmerenUE officials told the Associated Press Dec. 22 that the rupture likely happened after automatic pumps failed to turn off at night and a wall collapsed. The investigation into the cause continues.