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Motel A Mess, But Owners Vow To Rebuild

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By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

As Paul Hill drove away from the motel he and his wife Leeann own just north of the Highway 34 / Interstate 29 interchange on the evening of March 16, he wasn’t concerned about rising Missouri River flood water.

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“We’ll be back in a few days, we won’t get wet,” Paul recalled thinking.

By the next morning, the hotel, like much of western Mills County and the city of Pacific Junction to the south, was under water. Swelling flood waters overtook the stressed Missouri River levee overnight causing the worst flooding the area had seen in recent memory.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Paul said of the amount of flood water that had overtaken he and his wife’s Bluff View Motel in less than 12 hours. “When they took us out Saturday, they knew what they were doing.”
The Hills have owned the family-run Bluff View Motel for nearly nine years.

They also lived in a residence on the property with their two children, 10 and 8. They’ve been staying with family in an apartment in Glenwood since they were forced out.

The Hills were notified a few days prior to the mandatory evacuation that waters were rising and there was a strong chance they’d have to go. Paul spent most of the next two days getting his family out, securing housing for them and finding alternative accommodations for his long-term motel guests. The Hills didn’t remove any of their own belongings before evacuating. They took just enough clothes for a few days away.

In 2011, when flood waters last threatened the area, the Hills did move out truckloads of items as a precaution. They figured, like many, this time would be the same.

“We didn’t get water then and we took everything,” Paul said of the 2011 flood. “We looked at it this time and we decided we’d just need a few things, ‘We’re not gonna get water.’ And this happens.”

Paul was finally able to return to the motel nine days after the mandatory evacuation. In a boat from 100 yards to the south, he got his first glimpses of the damage to his home and business. The next day, he was back in hip waders,  trudging through four foot-deep flood waters. He was able to salvage a few items, including one of his son’s motorcycle dirt bikes but it was clear then, Hill said, the damage was devastating.

“When you see water up to the gutters, you have to expect the worst,” Paul said.

The 29-unit motel and the Hills’ attached  residence was a mess of water-logged furniture and saturated mattresses and carpet and floors were coated in a thick layer of mud and silt. Ripples of paint and muddy stain marked water levels were on every wall. The smell of river bottom hung in the air.

Paul guesses the water inside the motel got to seven or eight feet and closer to nine feet outside, touching the roof and eaves.

The Hills were officially allowed to return April 2. They began clean up efforts the next day.
Paul and the handful of volunteers that have lent support have since been pulling items from the building, determining what might be salvageable and what is lost.

“We have a burn pile, a scrap metal pile,” he said. “We want to keep it all separated and piled up. We’re salvaging what we can but we really don’t have anywhere to put it. So we set things aside and wait.”
Paul plans to stack the more than 60 water-soaked mattresses pulled from the rooms with the other piles until he can determine how to dispose of them.

“If I tried to put 60 wet mattresses in a dumpster it’d be normally like $150. But this, with the weight, it’d be $1,000. We’re going to let mother nature take its course and dry them out. It’s going to be a while. The water has ruined everything.”

The Hills don’t know what the future holds, if they’ll re-build or if any of the structure can be saved. But Paul is determined to re-open the business that has been in his family for decades.

“We’ll do whatever they let us do,” Paul said. “If we have to start over, we’ll do that. If we have to fix what we have, we’ll do that. Our plan is to be here and to open again.”

The motel didn’t have flood insurance which means the Hills will have to foot most of the bill for the re-build.
“We have help coming,” he said. “I just can’t sit around waiting, doing nothing. It’s hard, it’s very hard to see it all. We’re just getting started.”

Hill won’t let the damage or the daunting process of the clean up or the uncertainty of re-building dampen his spirits. He’s relied on his family and faith throughout. He’s been encouraged by the outpouring of support for his family and all the flood impacted residents and businesses in the area.

“I’m just happy to see how everybody is pulling together,” Paul said, a smile crossing his face. “It’s a blessing really. We’re just keeping our faith in God, you do that and you can’t lose when something like this happens.”