East St. Louis residents hope ‘Clean Sweep’ will spark new life into neighborhoods

EAST ST. LOUIS - Condemned homes and overgrown lots hid crime and bred fear in East St. Louis, IL, until Saturday morning’s massive volunteer effort by neighbors and demolition experts from all over the region.

"Millions of dollars being spent here today."

East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said she is grateful to have a volunteer army march on her city.

"We don't want any unsafe areas. We have children walking the street. The more areas that we can clear out, the safer it is for our children."

So, an estimated 700 volunteers joined Saturday's Better Family Life Clean Sweep. Community Outreach Vice President James Clark saw neighbors make a huge dent in one vacant lot in under an hour.

"It’s a lot of activity going on,” he was interrupted by a falling tree. “See? They're over there getting it in."

Just a few blocks away, a backhoe operator chewed away at a vacant two-story house.

"Like cutting down a tree,” said Holland Construction’s Bruce Holland. “You have to cut down on one side to get it down."

In less than 20 minutes, the operator started lifting the rubble into a huge dumpster. Holland said he does not live in East St. Louis. But, he is invested in the city’s recovery.

"I am an Illinoisan. Most of our work is in Missouri. But, we really are glad to see everyone step forward --  and all these contractors and volunteers to step forward  -- and make this happen."

Several construction and demolition companies took down overgrown lots and vacant homes in the area. Jim Reisch, owner of Reisch Development and Construction Services said that he hoped the demolished houses could leave East St. Louis with a blank slate to build new homes.

Videographer Troy Anthony Swanson captured drone video of the demolition. You can see the footage on the East St. Louis City Facebook Page.