Above the Missouri River, only treetops and rooftops

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2011 5:58 PM

By Michael Avok

FORT CALHOUN, Neb (Reuters) - From the air for miles over the Missouri River valley in eastern Nebraska, only the treetops and rooftops are visible.

No actual buildings. No actual tree trunks. Just the tops.

Floodwater from the north, released from several dams upstream on a river swollen by heavy rains and snowmelt, has inundated farmland to the north and south of Omaha.

From the air, as observed by a Reuters reporter in a small plane, the river looks like an hour-glass, pinched at Omaha, with a hodge-podge of inlets and overflows.

The old river channel, for the most part, is gone. Where the Missouri jumped its banks, only treetops mark where the river used to run.

The treelines create odd shapes. Serpentine lines of green where the river banks used to be, and random squares and circles where farms used to be. In spots, the muddy water looks like a Willie Wonka sea of melted chocolate.

In Fort Calhoun, just north of Omaha, the nuclear power plant is close to being an island. Just one road provides access to the plant. The plant was shut down for refueling in April and remains inactive due to flooding.

Portions of Interstate 29 that have been closed over the past two weeks are covered in deep water. North of Omaha, the Mormon Bridge remains useless as roads to the east and north cannot even be seen.

The river behaves itself just north of Omaha. It tapers almost to its banks. Levees in Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa, the city across the river, have kept flooding away from the cities. Joggers can still run across the Missouri River on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

Eppley Airfield, Omaha's airport, remained on alert as water continued to close in, but landing strips were dry on Friday.

South of Omaha and Council Bluffs, the Missouri begins its meandering route once again. What once was a tree-lined river is now a huge lake.

The wastewater treatment plant in Plattsmouth, Neb., is an island. Any travel to it will have to be by boat.

Kevin Larson, Plattsmouth city inspector, said the city is taking steps to protect the plant's equipment and infrastructure. River water pressure crushed one of the lines to the plant, so it is not operational.

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)