DORENA – When the U.S. Army Corps Engineers blew the Birds Point levee May 2, the waters washed away as many as 100 homes and 133,000 acres of fertile farmland. It also flooded one small church.
“The church is gone,” said LeRoy Davenport, pastor of Dorena Baptist Church. “I’ve seen aerial pictures and it’s gone.”
The church building is still there, but at one point the muddy waters were up the edge of the roof. The day after Mother’s Day, when the National Guard allowed property owners to inspect their homes via boats, a man reported to Davenport that he stood in the window ledge and could see pews floating inside.
The church has been around since 1946 and has never had floodwater in it. It’s come close to it a few times, but never in it and certainly not as bad as this.
When the floodway was activated, it was done so in part to save the town of Cairo, Ill., which experienced a record crest along the Mississippi River and a swollen Ohio River. With rain continuing and water levels at historic levels, the Corps public affairs office said there was “no way to stop all flooding, but rather to do our best to reduce the risk to life and property in the region.”
This spring the Mississippi River has already experienced precipitation 125 to 150-percent above normal rainfall. Corps experts estimate it will take up to two months for water to recede out of the floodway, assuming there is no more rainfall. After the water has receded, it will take another 21-30 days for the land to dry out.
If there’s an upside to the man-made flood, it’s that the residents of the floodplain and members of Dorena at least had some warning. Most of the church’s small membership lived outside the flood plain in East Prairie, but two who lived in mobile homes had to move the homes to higher ground and are now out of work.
“We knew it was coming, and kept praying,” Davenport said. “We got the piano, pulpit and Lord’s Supper table out, but not everything; the rest of it is gone. The brick on one side of the building is gone, too. Then, if the water goes down like they’re telling us, there may not be any roads left.”
Davenport said there isn’t a lot to be cheery about and recovery is going to be very hard work, but sees a glimmer of hope in the dark waters. There are lots of discussions floating around, including rebuilding and permanently relocating.
“Maybe God just wanted us to move this church into town,” he said, referring to East Prairie. “Whatever He wants, that’s what we’ll do. There’s no growth possibility in Dorena simply because there’s nobody down there. It’s hard to leave the site of your home church, but maybe this is what God wants us to do.”
BRIAN KOONCE/staff writer