LAKE ANDES — When Jean Barkley picked up a passenger, the rider couldn’t walk to the vehicle — she waded through flood water more than six months old.
The passenger lived in the Yankton Sioux tribal housing unit southeast of Lake Andes. In June, her house and yard were surrounded by floodwater. Now, her home is submerged in the increasingly-rising water.
“I wanted to loan her my kayak. She was walking in chest-high water. But she just kept wading and saying, ‘I’m not letting it get me down. I’m taking it day by day,’” Barkley said.
“She brought along a towel to sit on, but the car seat still got wet. She wanted to pay me for it, but I told her there was no way I was taking money from her.”
Instead, Barkley took the opposite action. After some planning, she launched a drive this week of clothing and supplies for the Lake Andes and White Swan community. The collected items are for anyone and will be distributed at the Andes Central school at a date and time to be determined.
“We’re seeking non-perishable food and (household) goods,” she said. “People have asked about donating curtains, but these people are losing their homes. They have no need for things like that. What they really need are things for day-to-day living.”
The donations can be dropped off from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at Trinity Lutheran Church, 403 Broadway Avenue, in Yankton. The church serves as a collection point, but Barkley serves as the organizer and sponsor of the drive.
“We just started this drive, and I’m planning my first trip to Lake Andes next Friday,” she said. “I take home the collection each day. I’m fortunate in that I have a large basement, but it’s getting to the point where I could really use a U-Haul because I can’t fit everything in my vehicle.”
SEEING A NEED
Barkley’s roots run deep in the affected area. She grew up on a farm east of Ravinia and graduated from Andes Central High School. She now lives in Yankton but has remained in contact with family and friends still living in southern Charles Mix County.
She has remained aware of this year’s ongoing flooding of Lake Andes, the town’s namesake located to the east. Historic rainfall from the March bomb cyclone sent the lake surging over Highway 18/50/281. Consistent summer rain kept the lake high, and now wintry weather has begun.
The closed U.S. and South Dakota highways cut off the Yankton Sioux housing unit and walking trail from Lake Andes. In addition, the flooding has inundated parts of the town, threatened the lift station and forced long detours for first responders and other travelers.
The high water table has created flooding and health concerns in both Lake Andes and in the outlying tribal housing unit, Barkley said.
“I’ve seen pictures, and I’ve also seen video from drones, but I was in disbelief when I got to see things at ground level. You see the waves beside the highway and the stench, and you have the dead fish on the highway,” she said.
“They lived around smelly green mucky water this summer. Mold and mildew cover the basement walls. Mushrooms are coming out of the walls.”
Barkley developed her idea for a flood relief effort following a visit to Wagner, which has also seen floods this year.
“I met three homeless men, one of them homeless because of the flooding,” she said. “I learned about their need for everyday things. People held a small (collection) drive on Facebook to secure towels, hamburger, bottled water and paper towels.”
Barkley saw the effort of tribal members who have refused to give up, even though the flood water now stands about 11 inches above the original Highway 18/50/281. She spoke in particular of one family she met during the course of her visits back home.
“Through friends, I also met Greg Zephier and his mother, Bernadine,” she said. “Greg is as optimistic as can be, and he has done a great deal for these people (in need). He’s no longer on the tribal council, but he’ll continue being a strong advocate.”
A HELPING HAND
Barkley returned to Yankton and launched her own collection drive. The initial response has been tremendous, she said.
“We’ve received paper products, cleaning products, a baby crib, mattresses, sheets and comforters,” she said. “With the change in weather, we’re now asking for winter gear. So far, we have already collected coats and stocking caps. We are calling for clothing (appropriate) for all ages, from baby through elderly.”
In describing another need, Barkley went back to her initial images of the woman wading through the flood water just to reach the road.
“As far as donations, they could use shoes and sneakers. They’re walking around in this water, and there could be health concerns,” she said. “People have been forced to move out of the flooded housing development because of things like being on (chemotherapy) or like having a transplant and not being able to live in those conditions.”
In addition, she remains concerned about a dependable, safe drinking water supply. “We’re taking bottled water, but what they really need is a water purification system,” she added.
Barkley emphasized she isn’t the only party working with relief efforts or providing additional assistance to Lake Andes flood victims.
“The General Federated Women’s Club (GFWC) of Yankton hosted me for their program,” she said. “Kathy Harens brought me as her guest, and it really helped create awareness. These women are always taking on projects and looking for something they can do.”
In addition, the Gayville-Volin Boy Scouts have designated the Lake Andes/White Swan residents as the recipients of their upcoming fall drive.
Crystal Nelson works with Pack 192 in Gayville. “(The Scouts) decided they wanted to do something a little extra with their drive this year,” she said.
Pack 192 hasn’t started its collection yet, Nelson said. The pack has sought to create publicity which will drum up more donations.
“We’ll put out flyers in the Gayville-Volin area on October 20 and pick up (donations) October 26,” she said. “We’ll collect nonperishable food, blankets, gently used shoes and clothes.”
WToiletries and health products remain a major need for those affected by flooding, Barkley said. Neighborhood Dental, Elwood Family Dental Care and Scott Family Dentistry have donated products for oral health, including dental floss, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
The everyday items have taken on even more meaning because of two flood-related developments, Barkley said.
“With the closed walking trail, a five-minute walk has now become a five-mile detour. And not everyone has transportation,” she said. “The Dollar General Store is also now closed (because of lost access), and that was a short distance for the tribal housing unit.”
The private donations are seeking to complement assistance from the government sector.
Gov. Kristi Noem inspected the flooding in July, and the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT) raised the highway several inches. The elevated road was re-opened briefly before more heavy rain forced another closure of the road.
Noem included Charles Mix County in her disaster requests for South Dakota. President Donald Trump has included the county — which includes the traditional homeland of the Yankton Sioux Tribe — in his approval for federal disaster assistance.
The assistance has been offered on two levels, according to a press release from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The presidential action makes federal funding available for individual assistance. Funding is also available to the state, tribal, eligible local governments and certain private non-profit organizations.
However, Barkley encourages all donations in the meantime.
“The water isn’t receding, it’s getting worse,” she said. “The situation isn’t going away. We’re expecting more rain, and it will soon freeze. The response we’ve received so far in donations has been wonderful in a short amount of time. There are a lot of caring people out there.”
Barkley reluctantly agreed to a Press & Dakotan interview. She said she dislikes the limelight, and she didn’t want her collection drive to appear as any more than the other work under way. However, she wanted to draw attention to pressing needs that could easily fade from the headlines and lose public attention.
In the end, the flood victims are people who need immediate help, Barkley said.
“I like to work behind the scenes, but I appreciate the opportunity to bring awareness of what is happening and what is needed,” she said. “I don’t want these people to think they’re forgotten.”
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