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Overtopped levees prompt evacuations in Atchison and Holt counties

Updated: 2011-06-27T15:35:26Z

By KATHLEEN POINTER

The Kansas City Star

The Missouri River overtopped levees in Atchison and Holt counties today, prompting evacuations and road closures.

Communities all along the river are preparing for a summer of high water. After a significant snow melt and unusually heavy spring rains, Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota started releasing 150,000 cubic feet of water per second on Tuesday. The record release rate is expected to continue throughout the summer.

A two-foot rise in the Missouri River over 24 hours led to water overtopping a levee in Atchison County, Mo., early this morning.

“The two-foot rise was not something that we anticipated,” said Mark Manchester, Atchison County’s deputy director of emergency management and 911. But the Army Corps of Engineers anticipated water could overtop the levee at some point, officials said.

Today’s water flow damaged the 12- to 15-foot-tall earthen levee too significantly to combat with sandbags, but Col. Bob Ruch of the Army Corps of Engineers said the river level may dip down some by Monday.

Atchison County emergency management issued evacuation advisories to people in the communities near the levee — Watson, Phelps City and Langdon.

Water hadn’t reached any homes by late this afternoon and Manchester was unsure whether it could.

“It’s still a waiting game,” he said. “We’ve never dealt with this much water before.”

The area hit a record crest of 44.6 feet today — a few inches higher than the floodwaters of 1993.

The flooding prompted the closure of U.S. 136 closed in Atchison County, which cuts off access over the Missouri River to Brownville, Neb.

The river has been overtopping the levee west of the village of Big Lake since Saturday evening, prompted an evacuation there.

The water prompted the closure of U.S. 159 south of Big Lake, which cut off access over the Missouri River to Rulo, Neb.

On Friday, the Coast Guard announced the Missouri River is closed at mile marker 450, near St. Joseph, up to mile marker 811, near Gavins Point.

A public power district issued a flooding alert today for a nuclear power plant in southeast Nebraska because of high river water.

Mark Becker, a spokesman for the Columbus, Neb.,-based utility, said the “notification of unusual event” sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was expected as the river swells above record levels. The declaration is the least serious of four emergency notifications established by the federal commission.

The plant was operating today at full capacity, and there was no threat to plant employees or to the public, Becker said.


The Associated Press contributed to this report. To reach Kathleen Pointer, call 816-234-4328 or send email to kpointer@kcstar.com.

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