WAYLAND – Graduation is a time for reflecting on the past. The Jerry Toops family recalls a miracle over a decade ago that made their daughter’s graduation possible.
In review, the five Toops lived in a house at the base of the Taum Sauk Park Reservoir near Lesterville, Mo., where Jerry was park superintendent. Just after 5 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2005, the reservoir dam failed. Millions of gallons of water gashed a 600-foot hole in the dam, rolled downhill into the house, and created a 30-foot crater behind the house.
“I heard a loud rumble like what people say a tornado sounds like,” said Toops’ wife, Lisa. “It was water coming down the hill.”
She had nursed seven-month old Tucker and they fell asleep in a front room about 4:30 a.m.
Lisa yelled for Jerry to get the kids, and he ran to Tucker’s room, unaware Lisa had him at her hip. She went to Tanner’s room, and reassured the five-year-old. Water lapped her feet. She had Tanner climb the bunk bed.
“I prayed, ‘Jesus save us,’ and water was at the neck, then over our heads. Tanner had already learned to hold his breath. I stepped on the floor to go to Tara’s room, and the ceiling cracked open.”
A nearby highway was previously raised over eight feet.
“We (were swept out and) cleared the highway and I didn’t know we even crossed it.”
The family was scattered in a field in the dark morning. Jerry grabbed the house roof, when water ripped the back off the house. He landed in a tree. Lisa and Tucker were together in a tree line. Tanner, who got separated from them, was nearby. Three-year old Tara was several hundred yards away, possibly out of the house on a mattress.
“I hollered for God, for Jerry, for Tanner. I passed out and woke up in an ambulance. I was cold, cold, cold. The guy in the ambulance said I’d be okay but my son (Tanner) needed his help.”
Going unconscious may have kept Lisa from wandering away.
They were found by rescue crews where water was shallow. A passing truck driver, whose rig was hit by the water, heard the screams and alerted authorities. The family first went to a Centerville hospital. Later the children were taken to Cardinal Glennon in St. Louis.
At the first hospital the parents learned the dam broke. The staff there worked two hours to resuscitate Tanner. Miraculously, all five survived.
“I first remember waking in a hospital with an IV sticking in my arm,” Tanner said. Tara remembered nothing of the events.
In May, 2006, the family returned to northeast Missouri, where Jerry grew up.
Fast forward 14 years from the move. Tara graduated from Keokuk (Iowa) Christian Academy (KCA). This fall she’ll join Tanner, a 2019 KCA graduate, at Heartland Baptist Bible College in Oklahoma City.
The Toops children – like other students – had end-of-the-school-year COVID-19 interruptions. Tanner’s classes were immediately canceled before spring break and finished on-line. Tara and Tucker, who finished his freshman year at KCA, also adjusted to complete work when KCA closed from the virus.
Tanner said one early positive virus case came from a Heartland basketball player.
The Toops expect to get through the hassles of COVID-19. They’ve had worse.
“Our incident (at Taum Sauk) was hard on our parents emotionally and physically. God used that awful experience to bring us to His love. In the COVID-19, people’s lives have been affected. We may not see where God is at work.” Tara said.
“I can see how God brought us through when we were literally hopeless. God is still with me. That applies in so many things,” Tara said.
Tara said the move to northeast Missouri brought her to a Christian school.
Lisa noted other ways God worked. A Taum Sauk campground was empty, and family set to visit for the holidays, would have been in the basement of the ruined house.
Tanner had burns from heated IV bags to warm his near-lifeless hypothermatic body that later required skin grafts. Lisa called this his testimony of how God saved him.
Tanner will be in some form of ministry. Tara is called to missions.
“I always think God has great things for my children. We’re beginning to see that come into play,” Lisa said.