NEOSHO, Mo. — Dorothy Humphrey has lived in a house on the 1100 block of Stratford Place for 50 years. The only two floods she has seen in that time have been in the past two years.
She owns six properties on the block. Five are rentals and one is her home. All six homes have been flooded twice in the past two years — knee high in 2017, about half that in 2019. Before 2017, three of her rentals had tenants.
Now, only two of her rentals are occupied. One is the home of a tenant. The other is where Humphrey now lives — flood damage to her regular home has not yet been repaired.
"I don't want to leave," Humphrey said. "I'd like to stay here, but I don't know what to do."
Robert Scribener is much more certain. He definitely wants to move himself, his fiancee and four children into a new home in another town. He bought his home in the 900 block of Riverside Drive at the end of 2016. After the flood in 2017 filled the home with about 14 inches of water, he knew he wanted to relocate. The flood in 2019, only 6 to 8 inches, solidified that decision.
"We're relocating," Scribener said. "That's why I got into truck driving. There's no question about it, we are relocating to Carthage."
The city of Neosho is on the verge of starting the process of buyouts from the 2017 flood. During its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Neosho City Council will hear initial results of a survey about what residents affected by the floods want to do with their properties. They will also begin the process of setting up buyout zones in accordance with state and federal policies in order to apply for and obtain grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
That money would be available to buy properties that had flooded from their owners and provide assistance to renters seeking a new place to live.
Part of that process will be to analyze results of a survey the city has been taking since about May, said Rachel Holcomb, director of economic development for the city. The survey gauges the interest of flood victims in plans for their properties or living arrangements.
At first, there was mixed interest in buyouts, Holcomb said, but ever since the second round of floods hit in late June, answers have been changing.
"We have had a few people who have changed their interest from no buyout to buyout," Holcomb said. "I think a lot of people thought another flood wouldn't happen again so soon. Quite a few have called me to change their answers."
On Wednesday, Holcomb and others with the city were part of a multiagency resource center event for June flood victims. Because the flooding happened in similar areas, many of the same people seeking assistance were also flood victims in 2017. Those people kept Holcomb and other city personnel, as well as an official with the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council, busy with questions about buyouts and relocation.
As of Wednesday, more than 90 surveys had been returned, Holcomb said. According to a map marked by colored pins, a large majority of respondents were interested in a buyout, relocation or both, depending on home ownership.
Responses to the survey are still being sought, Holcomb said, and will be used by council members to determine where to establish buyout zones and places they refer to as disaster-risk-reduction areas.
Such buyouts would change the landscape of those areas. According to federal law, lands bought through this program would be deed restricted for use as open space, recreation or floodplain and wetlands management.
The buyouts would also help victims with financial obligations related to their properties. Scribener said he wants to get his house paid off so that he can buy a new one, while Humphrey said a buyout would help offset the loss of income from not having tenants.
Funds could also be available to help renters relocate. Sonja Patton and her family, who live on Riverside Drive, have also suffered losses from the two floods. After the 2017 flood, she and her husband planned to save money for a down payment on their own home, but the closure of her place of employment removed a source of income. Now after the second flood, the family is motivated to move.
"We wish we could stay because our kids like the area," Patton said. "But we don't want to deal with flooding anymore. We got stuck inside during the first one, and now my youngest daughter always asks whenever it rains if it's going to flood. It scares her."
Applications for buyout grants will be available later this year. Holcomb said money will be available, but how much the city will receive is unknown.
And as the process unfolds, residents may have questions for city officials about the origins of flooding.
According to the National Weather Service, the 2017 floods were a result of historic rainfall from April 28 to April 30 of that year, with some areas receiving as much as 6 to 10 inches of rainfall across portions of Newton and McDonald counties that also destroyed several roads and bridges.
But Humphrey wonders how much clogged creeks and loose debris contribute to flooding in her area that she has never seen before.
"Solutions to prevent future flooding are my biggest concern," Humphrey said. "I think the creeks are getting bad. There are so many dead limbs and debris that the water raises faster, and the runoff is different than it used to be."
Scribener agrees. His property faces to the north, toward Hickory Creek. But he said water was higher in more southern portions of his property, leading him to believe that a newly carved creek bank or a newly constructed feature of some sort to his south is responsible.
"We've heard it was from Hickory Creek flooding out of its banks," Scribener said. "If Hickory Creek is what causes the flood, then I'd love for someone to explain why it never floods in my front yard."