Levee breaches threaten residents along Missouri River

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 14, 2011 12:58 PM
Levee breaches threaten residents along Missouri River

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - Residents in Hamburg, Iowa, were dry on Tuesday morning and waiting for the Missouri River to reach a secondary flood wall following a widely expected and widening levee breach miles south of the city.

Contractors have been raising the secondary levee by several feet near Hamburg, while a secondary levee has limited flooding from another levee breach 45 miles to the south in Big Lake, Missouri, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

"Right now, we are still dry," Hamburg Fire Chief Dan Sturm said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "But the water will encroach on the town within 24 hours."

The Missouri River basin forms the northwest portion of the Mississippi River basin that stretches from Montana to western New York and funnels water south into the Gulf of Mexico.

Heavy winter snowmelt feeding the river's headwaters in the Rocky Mountains and heavy spring rains have forced the Corps to release water from six dams stretching from Montana through South Dakota to relieve swollen reservoirs.

The Corps warned that Hamburg's secondary levee needed to be three feet higher based on new river projections. Iowa expects to raise the levee protection using about 3 miles of new barriers to be placed by the National Guard and filled by the Corps within two days.

About one-quarter of Hamburg's 1,200 residents, those living on the south side of town, were under mandatory evacuation orders.

Lynn Frum, bartender at the Blue Moon Grill & Bar on Main Street in Hamburg, said the situation hadn't changed much since Monday night. The bar is surrounded by sandbags.

"We're not worried about getting water in here (the bar)," Frum said. "We think the levee is going to hold."

Parts of the Big Lake, Missouri, area that includes a village and resort were flooded Tuesday after the breach of a nearby levee Monday not controlled by the federal government, said Diana McCoy, a Kansas City District Corps spokeswoman.

A recently built secondary levee in Holt County, Missouri, hear Big Lake has limited flooding, McCoy said.

PARK, ROADS CLOSED

Water is covering farmland and most people have evacuated the area, said Linda Burnsides, an employee at Big Lake State Park, which is closed because of potential flooding.

Flooding or possible flooding has closed some secondary roads in Holt County, said Jessica Wilson, a volunteer in the Holt County sheriff's office who is helping with public information about the flood.

Upstream from the breaches in the Missouri levees, federal officials reached a planned maximum water release rate at the Gavins Point Dam above Yankton, South Dakota, on Tuesday. The rate reached 150,000 cubic feet per second.

The river runs freely from Gavins Point for more than 800 miles to the Mississippi River near St. Louis and has no floodways like those opened up to relieve pressure on points along the Mississippi earlier this year.

Ultimately, the Corps plans water releases to peak at a rate of 150,000 cubic feet per second from the five reservoirs in the Dakotas, more than twice the previous record pace, and hold that pace at least through mid-August.

The Missouri River is expected to reach up to seven feet above flood stage at Sioux City, Omaha and Kansas City when the flows from the maximum release rates reach those areas.

Parts of Interstate 29 north of Council Bluffs, Iowa, were closed due to flooding and numerous secondary roads across the region have been closed.

The Missouri River flooding has displaced thousands of South Dakota and North Dakota residents. Authorities warned on Tuesday that residents in some small communities near Bismarck, North Dakota, should leave before road access is cut off.

Thunderstorms that could drop as much as 5 inches of rain in places over the coming days could complicate efforts,

The Corps has said a series of storms from Monday to the weekend would dump 2 to 4 inches of rain in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois -- and as much as 5 inches of rain in some parts of the Missouri.

(Additional reporting by Michael Avok and David Bailey; Editing by Jerry Norton)