Some stay, some go as Craig, Mo., starts flood evacuations

CRAIG, Mo. | Bill Hale waits for the slow death.

That’s what the 56-year-old calls the coming waters — “the slow death” creeping silently through the farmlands outside his house, rising beneath the cornstalks.

He’s ready: 60 gallons of drinking water, 60 days’ worth of military prepackaged meals and a beat-up dinghy he plans to rope to the back of his two-story home.

“I’ve made my life here,” Hale said Tuesday, gesturing at his neighborhood, tucked just inside a temporary earthen levee that remains the town’s last line of defense against floodwaters. “All my neighbors — this is all we’ve got.

“I’m gonna be here until I have to step off my roof and into my boat.”

Yet many of his neighbors may not be there to watch.

Craig’s city board handed down a mandatory, 48-hour evacuation order noon Tuesday, and around town, residents busied themselves, hauling furniture and appliances onto trailers. Life, for many, would have to carry on somewhere else — mainly with family, on higher ground.

Craig, a community that survived the flood of ’93 — as the billboard next to City Hall says — now must survive another.

Levees protecting this town have burst, one by one, and the river water is slowly advancing through the lush farmland in the floodplains bordering Craig, about an hour-and-a-half north of Kansas City.

At city limits, the arrival of floodwaters seems all but a foregone conclusion, with reports of defeated levees and rainstorms upstream.

“We’ve fought this flood tooth and toenail,” said Dennis Showalter, 57, a local soil contractor who’s been working on the levees. “But when it’s all said and done, it’s gonna go where the Corps said it’d go.”

Several people brimmed with fury at the perceived mismanagement by the Army Corps of Engineers, the state and federal government, and even at people up north, whose interests many think have been put in front of their own.

Army Corps officials said Tuesday they had no options — rainfall was so heavy up north that water had to be released from dams.

Terry Eaton, 64, is the city official coordinating the local disaster response. He said he hadn’t heard from any state or federal officials other than a representative from Sen. Roy Blunt’s office.

“It’s easy to fly over or drive by, but it wouldn’t hurt if they stopped by a bit,” he said. “When you’re only 300 people, you’re not a major concern to politics.”

Eaton said there had been some confusion about the evacuation but word would get around because the town is so small.

Larry Ogden, 73, was still waiting.

“Nobody informed us of what procedures we should take,” he said, standing next to the sandbags mounded around the doors and vents to his red, one-story home.

The retired chef was abandoning his house, along with his prized 12-by-20-foot kitchen, to the fates and planned to go live with his brother on a Native American reservation in Iowa.

“I can’t afford to move anywhere else," he said.

Others planned to stay.

Sue Patterson, 70, owner of the local gas station, ran out of boxes for folks a few days ago. Now everyone is coming for food — and for talk at three tables. She plans to park her motor home at the store.

David Drewes, 43, said he’d built 8-foot levees around his farmhouse, which was already surrounded by water. He’d moved the last of his livestock on Monday night.

“We’ve got two months to put up with this,” he said of the town.

Water release rates increased

Water being released from upstream dams into the Missouri River begins increasing today.

Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers had stepped up water releases from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota to 150,000 cubic feet of water per second. The plan was to keep that release rate — already more than double the previous record rate — through the summer.

Now, after unusually heavy rainfall over the northern part of the Missouri River, those releases are being bumped up. Today, they go to 155,000 cubic feet per second. On Thursday, they will reach 160,000, a level that the Corps expects to maintain until August.

The increased flows should be arriving in Kansas City early next week and are expected to boost the flooding river by about another half a foot in the area.