As water rushed down the Neosho and Spring Rivers inundating Miami a year ago this week, city employees prepared to work overtime to serve the needs of its devastated residents.
Many put their own lives on hold.
As the utility billing officer manager, Teresa Asbell said her personal life was put on the back burner as she tried to assist utility customers in the days following the flood.
"For most of July, I worked with the public in the utility office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Asbell said. “I did my billing responsibilities after hours.”
Asbell said it was hard seeing the devastation the flood brought to the residents of Miami.
“Seeing the despair on their faces was hard,” Asbell said. “Not only financially, but physically taking a toll on them. So many had no insurance. Then to watch them find out they may not be able to rebuild.”
Electric and water meters couldn't be read for most of the month of July, according to Asbell, because many were still under water. Technicians didn't have time to read the one's that weren't submerged because they were all busy resetting meters.
“We had to estimate the readings,” Asbell said. “My job in August was to check each meter reading to check to see if we had overestimated in July, give adjustments and manually fix the readings for billing.”
City employees were working double the normal work day to serve the needs of Miami's residents - many of them facing their own devastation. Including Asbell.
“We were in Kansas City that weekend,” Asbell said. “The news was talking about all the rain Kansas was getting and my husband said we need to get home we're going to flood. I thought, hopefully, he was overreacting.”
The Asbell's purchased their Eastgate home “brand new” in 1978. At the time, they were told they were in the 100-year flood plain.
“About a month later we received a letter advising us the map had been rezoned and we were no longer on a flood plain,” Asbell said.
The Asbell's were flooded in 1986 and 1994. In 1993, the water came up to three sides of their home.
“We also moved out two other times but were not flooded,” Asbell said.
Asbell said her husband, Bob, kept an eye on the Grand River Dam Authority's website as more and more water was being released.
“Monday morning (July 1) Bob called me at work and told me to get home and start packing - the water's coming,” Asbell said.
Asbell said she made several calls to people in their church, friends and relatives to enlist their help packing.
“I had to buy $200 worth of boxes because there were no boxes to be found,” Asbell said.
By 11 p.m. all of the Asbell's personal belongings were stored in storage buildings, friend's homes and at Bob Asbell's place of employment.
At one point during the evacuation, Asbell said she noticed three of her friends packing a large collection of tea sets.
“I thought how ridiculous to have so much stuff it takes three people to pack one collection,” Asbell said. “I decided then I would downsize.”
Ultimately, water reached 4-feet 10-inches inside the Asbell's home. Sustaining damage over 50-percent of the home's value meant they could not return.
“We lived with my mother-in-law from July until our new home was finished at the end of January,” Asbell said. “We felt very blessed because so many people had to live in the FEMA trailers and move two or three times before they could get settled.”
Asbell said the drastic change in her personal life, work life and spiritual life - their church was part of the buyout in Picher - caused stress that developed into a severe rash that lasted over four months.
In the aftermath of the flood, Asbell said there were many hoops to jump through and paperwork to file.
“Probably the most frustrating in the whole thing was every time we called SBA (Small Business Administration) we had a new person for our case worker,” Asbell said. “Or calling and leaving messages for them to call us back and not having the call returned. Some days were like riding a merry-go-round.”
Asbell said they did downsize because they moved to a smaller home.
“We gave away a lot of furniture,” Asbell said. “But I ended up keeping most of those tea sets. I rationalized it by saying we would never flood again. If we do, the whole town will be under water.”
Asbell said they feel blessed because they are in a new home and no longer on a flood plain. Work is back to normal.
“Of course, by the time we finished getting the flood work out with utility billing, we had to start over with the ice storm,” Asbell said. “But that's a whole other story.”
Joyce Fitzgibbon can relate.
As the 911-dispatch supervisor, Fitzgibbon listens daily to cries for help. When tragedies such as the 2007 flood occur, 911 dispatchers are swamped with calls from people desperately seeking answers - In addition to the medical emergencies.
One month to the day before the Neosho swelled out of its banks, Fitzgibbon's husband, Pat, lost his battle with cancer.
On July 2, as Fitzgibbon still grieved the loss of her partner and best friend of 47 years, another tragedy was about to challenge her resistance. Water was quickly rising on the walls of the home the couple shared for over 40 years.
Friends and family rushed to aid in getting her possessions off the ground floor of Fitzgibbon's home.
“We piled stuff in the tops of the closet and on top of the bed,” said Fitzgibbon. “We just never imagined the water would get so high.”
When the water rescinded and Fitzgibbon returned home, she was shocked to see that the water mark reached even with the cabinets in her kitchen - soaking everything below that level.
“We saved a lot and lost a lot,” said Fitzgibbon. “We saved most of the furniture, but I lost a lot of sentimental things.”
One of the most treasured of her collections is Fitzgibbon's accumulation of Christmas ornaments - each attached to a special moment in her life.
“I lost all of them - all of my decorations,” said Fitzgibbon.
It wouldn't be the end of losses for Fitzgibbon.
In September, Fitzgibbon and her faithful basset hound finally settled into their new home in Rockdale. Grief came once again shortly afterward. The long-time family pet passed away.
“I think the stress of losing Pat and moving to a new place was just more than he could handle,” said Fitzgibbon.
Fitzgibbon said her experience was a real learning-lesson. She learned many things about insurance that she didn't realize before.
“You should really look over your policy,” said Fitzgibbon. “There are a lot of things you assume are covered under your policy that may not be.”
Fitzgibbon said she was grateful to all the friends and family who stepped in to help her evacuate and then recover from the flood.
“A group from North Carolina came in to help with the clean up,” said Fitzgibbon. “They were all volunteers and they were all wonderful people.”
Asbell and Fitzgibbon were not the only city employees who put their personal lives on hold to help the residents of Miami. Among the other employees who lost their home were:
Danny Trujillo - Animal control officer
Mark Jones - Police department mechanic
Chris Blackstock - Tree crew
Todd Murphee - Water department
Robert York - Sanitation department
Jeff Stroud - Operation center
Delmar Mattling - Solid waste department
Chris Atkinson - Water department
Steve Clapp - Parks department
Erick Clifford - Fire department