By Michael Avok
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (Reuters) - Hundreds of people traded their morning coffee and weekend routines for gloves, shovels and sandbags on Saturday in a race to stay ahead of the flooding Missouri River.
Braylon Kammrad, 5, wielded a small plastic shovel and attacked a huge pile of sand at the parking lot of the Mid- America convention center.
"Now, put it in the bag," urged his mom, Laurie Kammrad, as the whole family pitched in to help.
Residents have been shoring up levees along the Missouri River from Montana through Missouri as federal officials move toward record planned water releases to relieve pressure on six major reservoirs swollen by heavy rains and melting snow.
Six dams from Fort Peck in Montana to Gavins Point on the South Dakota-Nebraska border are at peak releases, or are planning to reach them by mid-June, and hold them to at least mid-August.
Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan led a team of fire and rescue workers who had young and old marching to get bags filled and shipped to boost levees.
"We're looking to get a half million bags filled," the longtime mayor said. "I think we can do it."
"We've got a great system, and people are coming from all over," he said. "Some were alive back at the last big flood in 1952 and saw their parents sandbagging."
Natalie Swanson, 13, of Lake Manawa, wanted to show that her generation was ready in time of need. "My family and everyone is stressing out over this. I came to help," she said. She said her friends were not there, though. "They're lazy."
Swanson was holding empty bags for Eric Adamshick, of Bellevue, Neb., to fill. Bellevue, about 20 miles south of Council Bluffs, has its own worries. Adamshick said athletic facilities and walking trails at Haworth Park along the river are under about 10 feet of water and no one is allowed to go there. He estimated that water could be there for months.
More than 400 people were signed up to fill sandbags by 9 a.m. local time. Mayor Hanafan said that number could reach 800 people by day's end. Dozens waited in line, shovels in hand, to be the next wave of volunteers.
In Hamburg, Iowa, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to complete by Wednesday a secondary levee to protect the town from the expected failure of a Missouri River levee that has had three partial breaches, according to Mike Crecelius, emergency management director for Fremont County, where Hamburg is located.
The Corps does not believe the current levee will withstand the full weight of the Missouri. Between 200 and 300 people of the town's 1,200 residents are under mandatory evacuation, Crecelius said.
"There's no flooding in the city of Hamburg at this point," Crecelius said. "All the flooding is on cropland right now."
(Writing and reporting by Michael Avok; Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune)