Town near Atchison ‘self-evacuating’ as floods cut power and close roads to the north

A small Missouri town near Atchison, Kan., is emptying out as people flee floodwaters that have already cut power and closed roads farther north.

Buchanan County emergency management director Bill Brinton said Wednesday that most of the 130 or so people who live in Lewis and Clark Village had already left and others had made plans to go.

“About 60 percent of the people have evacuated and the rest are in the process,” Brinton said. “They’ve got trucks loaded waiting to evacuate if needed.”

Heavy rain and snowmelt in other states have swollen the Missouri River, causing extreme flooding in Nebraska and parts of northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas.

Flooding is expected to be minimal by the time it reaches Kansas City, but parks along the river in Parkville are flooded and areas north of St. Joseph are inundated, with severe damage to property and livestock.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has closed Interstate 29 north of St. Joseph. Kansas City Power and Light said Wednesday that electricity has been cut off for “customers in Northwest Missouri, including areas of St. Joseph as water topped levies near those communities.”

The waters are expected to crest above “major” flood stage in the St. Joseph and Atchison areas Thursday.

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Lewis and Clark Village is located on a bend in the river just east of Atchison. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources closed the campground at nearby Lewis and Clark State Park last week because of flood forecasts and announced Tuesday that it turned off all electricity and phone services at the park.

“Power and phone service will be restored when conditions make it safe to do so,” the park’s website said.

In communities farther north along the Missouri River, like Craig, Mo., residents have been ordered to evacuate. In Lewis and Clark Village, Brinton said residents are “self-evacuating” because of memories of a devastating 2011 flood.

“They had water in their houses for 96 days (in 2011),” Brinton said. “So they’ve been there and done that.”

Buchanan County commissioner Ron Hook was leading sandbagging efforts around U.S. Highway 59 near the state park.

Hook said the highway will stay open as long as the levees aren’t breached. If they are breached, the county will have about two hours to get everyone out. Power will be cut off and the Missouri Department of Transportation will have to close the highway.

“Most of the people have already evacuated because they know the situation,” Hook said.

Whether the levees hold or not, Hook said there would probably be some flooding.

“The water is getting real close to the top right now, and if we crest tomorrow or Friday and they’re talking about another 1-and-a-half to 2-foot crest we’re going to have some over-topping of the levees for sure,” Hook said.

Atchison, a historic city of about 11,000 people just across the U.S. Highway 59 bridge, is largely protected from the floods by high river bluffs.

Joe Warren, the city’s director of administrative services, said that as of Wednesday a road along the river was closed and a few businesses, including a foundry, were affected. But by and large the city was operating as usual while watching the other side of the river warily.

“Highway 59 on the Missouri side, which obviously has a huge effect on us logistically, at this point it’s still open,” Warren said. “From my understanding, it’s a matter of whether the levees hold on the Missouri side. I think that’s kind of iffy now, but we don’t know.”

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.