Part of Iowa town evacuated as Missouri River rises
June 6, 2011
Six hundred people in southwest Iowa were ordered Sunday to evacuate their homes after the Missouri River breached a levee across the border in Missouri.
The evacuation covers nearly half of the town of Hamburg, said Stefanie Bond, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Residents, most of them on the south side of the city of 1,141, were told to get out within 24 hours.
The Army Corps of Engineers reported a levee was breached Sunday morning south of Hamburg in Missouri's Atchison County. The corps' Col. Robert Ruch said crews had been working Saturday on another issue near the breach and all workers were evacuated.
Gen. Derek Hill, head of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, characterized the breach as a "boil" — a leak that 'shoots out like a small geyser" — that was 1 inch to 1½ inches in diameter.
Iowa sent a Black Hawk helicopter Sunday to drop roughly 1,000-pound sandbags on the levee, Hill said, adding it was too dangerous to use ground crews. It was not known how long the work would take.
"It's a technique that's been used before by the corps," he said. "There's no guarantees, but we hope it will (work)."
Rhonda Wiley, emergency management director for Atchison County, Mo., said another nearby levee had a similar break Saturday, but Wiley said crews were able to repair it. She said levees along the Missouri River have been weakened by the river's recent high water.
"We anticipate these compromises rearing their ugly heads all up and down the levee system throughout this event," Wiley said Sunday. "It's not a pretty picture. But today nobody appears to be in imminent danger at this moment."
This year could be one of the wettest on record in the Missouri River basin, according to the corps. Officials are predicting record river flows and large releases from reservoirs in the Dakotas because of steady spring rain and above-normal snowpack. The corps has warned that the overflowing river isn't likely to crest until middle to late June and water will remain high for weeks or even months.
The corps predicts the river will crest at 27 feet or higher in Nebraska City, Neb., which is across the river from Hamburg. Flood stage is 18 feet. As of Sunday afternoon, the river was at 23.14 feet at Nebraska City, according to the National Weather Service.
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