Mo. Levees Key to Preventing More Flooding, National Guard Mobilized

May 11, 2007

Floodwaters continued to rise across northwest and central Missouri, inundating small towns like Bigelow and shutting down businesses from Chillicothe to Platte County.

The National Weather Service said it expected parts of the Missouri, Platte and Grand rivers, along with their tributaries, to remain at flood stage until the weekend, adding misery for property owners and spurring downstream residents to fill sandbags and move what they could to safety.

“We’re trying to ensure communities are thinking about the water that’s probably coming,” said Gov. Matt Blunt, who has mobilized more than 100 members of the National Guard.

The biggest problems are on the Platte and Grand rivers, where floodwaters were still rising to near-historic levels, causing some road closures.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets any better,” said Julie Adolphson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill.

The good news, she said, is there is no significant rain forecast for the region over the next few days, giving swollen creeks and streams time to return closer to normal.

State officials said dozens of levees have been overtopped or breached since the drenching weekend thunderstorms that also generated tornadoes that claimed 12 lives in Kansas. Most of the levees shield agricultural land, but at least nine major, nonfederal levees that protect towns had been overtopped, said Susie Stonner, a spokeswoman for the State Emergency Management Agency.

No injuries or deaths had been reported from the Missouri floods, Stonner said.

Lt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said troopers were working 24-hour shifts near the village of Big Lake after nine levee breaks inundated the community with water. The broken levees included five on the Missouri River and four smaller levees along the Tarkio River and the Tarkio Creek.

The village of Big Lake, which sits in the middle of the waterways, was flooded Monday night and Tuesday.

Rooftops were all that were showing of some of the 450 to 475 homes that were flooded, said Charlie Triggs, chief of Big Lake’s volunteer fire department.

Water was at least chest high at the home of Matt Anderson, a volunteer firefighter at Big Lake. While staffing a security checkpoint, he recalled watching a rush of water hit the community early Tuesday morning and carry off large trees and even docks with the boats still attached.

“It just all of the sudden starting rolling in,” Anderson said. “I don’t know how fast it was coming, but it was coming too fast to stay around.”

The Missouri Water Patrol rescued about 20 people from a campsite and flooded homes over the past three days in Big Lake. The patrol also helped reunite a few animal owners with their pets, including Glenn Burger, who had the patrol return him to his home Wednesday to rescue his two pet cockatiels.

“I’ve had them about five years and I hated to lose them,” said Burger, 78, who lived through floods in 1984 and 1993. “This is the last one. I’m through. I’m going to move to town.”

Nearby, dump trucks loaded rock along railroad tracks, which had water on either side of them.

Downstream, in Platte County, about 49 businesses had been evacuated in the cities of Parkville, Riverside and Tracey. Also in Tracey, 140 homes had been evacuated in preparation for the Platte River cresting.

Farther to the south in the Jackson County town of Levasy, authorities evacuated 300 to 400 residents Wednesday after water from the Missouri River started to encroach on the unincorporated community. At least a dozen homes were partially under water, a Jackson County dispatcher said Wednesday.

To the east, floodwaters from the Grand and Thompson rivers were flooding a few businesses and homes in the southwest part of Chillicothe, Livingston County Sheriff Steve Cox said.

The Chillicothe school district’s administrative office, which houses an alternative school, closed Wednesday because of flooding, but all other schools were open. School officials used a boat to reach the district office.

In neighboring Carroll County, presiding commissioner Nelson Heil said floodwaters might claim some isolated homes in the southern end of the county. But he said he was more concerned about the loss of some of the county’s most productive farmland.

“We’ll be lucky if it stops at 20,000 acres,” said Heil, who said he has lost around 200 acres of corn and wheat. “‘It’s really going to be rough on everybody. I know there are some people who are not going to survive this.”

In Jefferson City, the National Weather Service forecast the river would crest Sunday at 8.7 feet above flood stage, lower than previously expected but still high enough to cause flooding at the municipal airport and other low-lying areas below the bluff where the state Capitol sits.

The rising river was a big tourist attraction Wednesday as hundreds of people stopped by a boat ramp across from the Capitol for an up-close view of the swiftly floating debris, trees, tires, soda bottles, oil cans and even a soccer ball.

Residents in Hartsburg in southern Boone County spent Wednesday filling hundreds of sandbags as they prepared for the Missouri River to crest in the upstream town of Boonville at 13 feet above flood stage by Friday evening.

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