"When you look at that steel and the sharp edges, it was just like spagetti twisted and turning," Doyle Childers, director of Missouri's Department of Natural Resources, said.
On Dec. 14, a wall of water roared down the hill, taking everything with it. Rocks weighing tons were carried by the 20-foot current. A park ranger, his wife and three children survived the flood, because their house was carried upstream, not downstream. They were rescued from trees.
"You would have had several hundred people here sleeping early in the morning," Childers said. "The worst part of the flooding [is] 30 or 40 feet in the air. No way you could have survived. It's just not possible."
An Ameren UE dam holding one billion gallons of water broke and flooded the area. The Johnson's Shut-Ins are located in Reynolds County. The name comes from Johnson family, who originally owned the land, and the term "shut-ins" means the river is squeezed together by two cliffs.
DNR officials want to let visitors in as soon as possible, but there will be some restrictions. If the boardwalks can be repaired, visitors can see the park Memorial Day weekend, but the water will be off-limits, from the shut-ins to the bait shop.
Barney Phegley owns Barney's Bait Shop a few miles away.
"On Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, [and] Labor Day weekend, if you don't make it, then you're done," he said.
Business has been terrible, with onlookers instead of customers.
"They'll stop and say, 'How far is it to the bathroom?'" Phelgley said. "I'd say December to now, 30,000 cars go out here and look at it."
Barney has had enough, and has put his bait shop up for sale.
What's bad for Barney has been good for the Shepherd Mountain Inn where Ameren has been renting dozens of motel rooms.
"You could spend a week here and not get tired of it," motel manager Kay Vandiver said. "But things changed in a matter of seconds."
The question is will they come back..
Bob Franklin rents canoes on what used to be the clearest stream in the Ozarks. It's not anymore, and you can see the chalky sediment.
"When the upper reservoir broke, it eventually settled in the lower reservoir. The gravel bars upstream about a mile are just covered in mud," Franklin said.
Childers isn't sure Ameren will rebuild the dam. It depends on how they do it and how safe the campground is.
Missouri's crown jewel is tarnished, it's scarred, and it needs repairs. Childers wants Ameren to prevent man-made damage to Missouri's enviroment, not clean it up later.
"We give them a chance," Childers said. "We work with them, but if they continue to pollute, if they continue to harm the enviroment, we'll throw the hammer at them."
There will be no camping this summer. As far as the reservoir break, federal investigators say instruments used by Ameren to keep the reservoir from overflowing were not working. A final report is due out later.
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