Displaced Pinhook residents look for new home
Drive along southeast Missouri’s Highway VV in Mississippi County, and you will primarily see vibrant green fields littered with farm equipment and the occasional farmer working the land.
The burned out remains of what was once a church stands sentry alongside the highway, just outside of what at first glance appears to be an ordinary rural community.
But, something seems out of place.
In the parking lot of Union Baptist Church in Pinhook, Mo., it’s quiet and serene -- a natural sanctuary. But at this tiny, bricked chapel, the walls are broken, the pews are missing and weeds are overtaking the concrete lot. Like the once close-knit community of Pinhook itself, the church and its people are gone.
“I was concerned about the others because they didn’t have no place to go,” George Williams says. “They had hardly no place to go.”
At 78-years-old, Williams is Pinhook's oldest resident. In 2011, Pinhook was sacrificed to the Mississippi River to save larger towns from rising floodwaters. The community’s problem was that it sits in the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway, which was created as part of a Federal Flood Risk Management Act to minimize loss of lives and property during historic floods.
“They was scattered everywhere,” Williams says. “In Charleston, Sikeston, some of them was in Wyatt. Different places – where they could find any place to stay. You know, they had to get out of there.”Some 35 Pinhook residents had less than a day to evacuate their homes when the Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached the levee. All residents evacuated safely, but they took very little property with them.
“That was a community and I loved it. Everybody got along down there. Everybody tried to keep their property up. And everybody had flowers and thangs down there, they put flowers down. And you could just walk from house to house and talk to people in that project,” Williams says.
Two years later, Pinhook remains a ghost town. What the river didn’t ruin, vandals destroyed by fire to gain access to copper and anything valuable.
Residents are displaced and dissatisfied, but determined to put their community back together.
“Pinhook was a good community,” Williams says. “We’d have Memorial Day there. We’d have a big ta-do there and everything. Kids had to play. You could turn your kids loose over there on that church yard and they would run and play. Nobody [would] bother them. When they’d get tired they’d come on home.”
The village board continues to meet monthly at a restaurant in Mississippi County to discuss how people are faring and what needs they have. Village chairwoman Debra Tarver said her people want to remain both physically and mentally close. To make this happen, they have worked with private, state and federal agencies to obtain approval and funding for a government buyout.
That's necessary because no homes can be insured or rebuilt in the floodway unless they are elevated eight feet from the ground. The village submitted a community block development grant application to Missouri officials in March. If approved, Pinhook will be resettled outside of the floodway.
“Pinhook will never die in my heart and in a lot of Pinhookians’ heart,” Tarver says. “Officially on paper it’s still there until the state tells us it’s not. So we’re not giving up until they say it’s not. And then probably we’ll find a way to do something to try to get back together and be Pinhook again.”
Tarver wants residents to keep their spirits up until they can rebuild and regain that sense of home lost to the floodwaters.
This story originally aired as part of Business Beat, a weekly program about business and economics in mid-Missouri.