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Southside volunteers frustrated with city leaders on flood response

“We did this as private citizens without assistance from the city,” said Chris Kowalewycz, Owner of Dr. Green Thumb Landscape Service.

Posted: Jul 31, 2020 5:36 PM
Updated: Aug 1, 2020 4:15 PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) It's been 11 days since floodwaters washed out southside St. Joseph.

Homes have been ruined and families have been displaced. The damage has left the community scrambling and looking for answers.

Volunteers have stepped up to help, but they said they're frustrated with the lack of leadership from the city. 

“These people need solutions long term. They need to know that when they fix their house, their sewer isn’t going to back up like it just did,” said Chris Kowalewycz, Owner of Dr. Green Thumb Landscape Service. 

A team of volunteer landscapers have been down in the southend working free of charge to help piece the town back together. 

“We did this as private citizens without assistance from the city,” said Kowalewycz. 

This isn't the team's first disaster as they have been deployed to several natural disasters throughout the country, but the volunteers said this is the first instance the local government hasn't been as involved in restoration efforts.  

“No one from the city council has contacted me, communicated with me, looked for guidance or direction as to what we’re doing. Nobody said get out of our way, this isn’t what you should be doing, nobody said anything,” said Kowalewycz. 

St. Joseph city council addressed the southside flood Thursday during their weekly COVID-19 meeting.

During the meeting streamed on the City of St. Joseph Facebook page, Mayor Bill McMurray expressed his frustration with the lack of national and state help the city has received, “I’m angry that SEMA can’t or won’t help and it has to do with the number of houses affected and the size of the disaster.”

The volunteers said they're thankful for the city streets' crews and Buchanan County for their efforts, but said St. Joseph leaders have been silent. 

“Nobodys been out here communicating with me as to whether or not we need to vac and jet the sewers and get some of this stuff cleared out and maybe there’s an infrastructure that’s collapsed, but we need to explore it.”

The City Streets' Department have been out working the southend since the flood waters hit. 

“We’ve shut down several of our normal operations to come down here. There’s a lot of projects we aren’t going to do or we’re gonna do a lot later because we got everyone down here trying to do this,” said Keven Schneider, Superintendent of St. Joseph Streets and Infrastructure. 

Schneider said starting Monday, the city will have four ditching crews in the southend. He expects the southend to be a 3-4 month long project. 

The landscapers dedicating their labor said regardless of help from city leaders, they're going to carry on helping southside rebuild. 

“We’re the southend. We’re proud. We can do it. We can do it with you, we can do it without you,” said Kowalewycz. 

As KQ2 was leaving the southend Friday afternoon, councilman Kent O'Dell showed up to the site where volunteers were removing trees from Contrary Creek. The councilman chose not to comment. 

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Storm chances return Tuesday and increase into Tuesday night for northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas. The region could see a few strong storms and heavy rainfall. Temperatures will rise into the upper 80s.
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