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Associated Press, Published June 06 2011

Nebraska, Iowa brace for Missouri River flood

OMAHA, Neb. – Cities up and down the Missouri River in Nebraska and Iowa are inspecting flood walls and piling up sandbags to prepare for a deluge of water the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will release later this month.

But it’s difficult for anyone to feel 100 percent confident about their preparations because this year’s flooding will likely exceed the 1993 flood and might rival the record 1952 flood. And the flooding is expected to last most of the summer.

Six hundred residents in Hamburg, Iowa – or nearly half of the town – were told Sunday to get out of their homes within 24 hours after the corps reported a levee had been breached downstream in Missouri’s Atchison County. Stefanie Bond, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said officials were working on a repair plan and the evacuations were ordered in case repairs failed.

The corps plans to significantly increase the amount of water being released from the Gavins Point Dam on Lewis and Clark Lake in South Dakota over the next two weeks to clear out some water from surprisingly heavy spring rains and make room for runoff from this year’s above-normal snowmelt.

As a result of the increased releases, the Missouri River is predicted to rise 5 to 7 feet above flood stage and spill over its banks in numerous spots along Iowa and Nebraska before heading into Missouri.

“This really is a historic event,” said Jody Farhat, who leads the corps’ Water Management Division in Omaha.

The only time the river has been higher in the past six decades was in 1952. During that flood, the river crested above 44 feet at Sioux City, Iowa, and above 40 feet at Omaha. This summer, the river is expected to reach as high as 37 feet at Sioux City and 36 feet at Omaha.

Officials and volunteers have been preparing for high water for days in Sioux City, South Sioux City, Neb., and Dakota Dunes, S.D. – three communities separated by the river. Much of Dakota Dunes has already been evacuated.

In nearby South Sioux City, officials have been scrambling to protect the city’s vulnerable northwest side. City officials initially planned to build a concrete wall atop an existing levee for protection, but the corps wanted a less permanent, more proven option. So now a new levee is being built out of sand and dirt.

Construction of South Sioux City’s new 7,000-foot-long berm began Friday. That earthen flood wall and a secondary wall of sand-filled plastic foam forms behind it should be completed within a week.

South Sioux City Administrator Lance Hedquist said the new flood wall should be about 2 feet taller than the flood waters. The temporary flood barriers should offer some peace of mind to South Sioux City residents living behind them, but it won’t be clear how well the walls will hold up until the water arrives.


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