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Flood assistance centers in East St. Louis serve hundreds of families this weekend

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - 8/8/2022

Aug. 8—EAST ST. LOUIS — Sunday's multi-agency flood relief center marked the seventh such event since torrential rains destroyed cars, flooded homes and killed at least two people late last month.

The center was held at East St. Louis High School in Illinois, and organizers appeared to have addressed logistical issues that left hundreds of people standing outside for hours in hot, humid weather while in line Thursday for flood assistance in University City.

While waiting her turn with other residents in the school's air-conditioned cafeteria, an East St. Louis resident who lives on Lake Drive said she arrived 90 minutes before the center opened at noon and was No. 96 in line to receive services to help with her damaged home.

"It's really devastating, and when you realize your insurance doesn't pay for anything, you wind up here," she said, requesting to remain anonymous.

Organizers were calling five to 10 numbers at a time in numerical order, using a take-a-number system for people arriving so they could keep track of how many families were waiting for services.

The center can accommodate 250 families a day and hit that capacity on both Saturday and Sunday, according to Erin Smith, United Way's vice president of communications.

On Sunday, the Red Cross confirmed more than 1,700 families — 1,500 in Missouri and 250 in Illinois — had received help at one of the seven flood assistance centers held thus far.

The centers bring together state government, nonprofit and religious-affiliated disaster relief organizations to assist people displaced or otherwise affected by the flooding.

"And the biggest thing to remember is that this was a flash flood event ... (and) even though the water has gone down, the impact and need remains," Beth Elders, executive director of the American Red Cross of Greater St. Louis, told the Post-Dispatch.

Approximately 100 volunteers worked the East St. Louis center this weekend, some coming from as far as Kansas City and Arkansas.

But traveling more than 1,600 miles to volunteer was Kathleen Palley with the Red Cross. The self-described empty nester said she signed up last year to volunteer with her local Red Cross organization in Las Vegas as a way to become involved in her community after moving there from California.

She said she liked the idea of coming to Missouri because the need for assistance was there, but it wasn't as talked about as much in news media compared with other catastrophes such as wildfires in California and flooding in Kentucky.

Palley said she has been touched by the way residents treat each other like they're neighbors, even when they don't know each other and are all in need of help themselves.

"The people interact like they're family, they take care of each other and it's just so different from what I was expecting to see," she said. "It made me really feel the compassionate nature of the people here struggling together."

Several people waiting for assistance talked about what they see as the government's neglect of the sewers and pumps in East St. Louis.

"This is nothing new, it's just never been this bad," Cloyd Perry said, noting that when heavy rains hit his front yard floods, which happens about three or four times a year. "So a lot of it, I think, I feel it was just from neglect. The city has neglected what they were supposed to do and maintain the pumps."

Cloyd and his wife, Pamela, were waiting at the center Sunday after their home on Terrace Drive flooded and they lost three vehicles to the water. They said they were currently living in a hotel, paying for the room themselves all while grieving their son LaVon Perry, who died July 17.

They were hoping to find resources to clean their house, which they've lived in for approximately 11 years, as well as clothing and more permanent housing while they clean up their residence.

The couple, who have been married 48 years, said they ultimately hope to move out of East St. Louis to St. Anne to be closer to their daughter.

Three more multi-agency resource centers were scheduled for the coming days at Friendly Temple, located at 5515 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis. Residents can seek assistance at those events from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.


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