Missouri

Flooding forces evacuations in northwest Missouri towns; rivers haven’t crested yet

Drone video shows latest flooding along Missouri River at Atchison

Drone video shows floodwaters rushing over the levees on the Missouri side of the Missouri River at Atchison, Kan. on Friday, March 22, 2019. The levees there breached on Thursday and have flooded Winthrop and Sugar Lake downstream.
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Drone video shows floodwaters rushing over the levees on the Missouri side of the Missouri River at Atchison, Kan. on Friday, March 22, 2019. The levees there breached on Thursday and have flooded Winthrop and Sugar Lake downstream.

Some northwest Missouri residents were forced from their homes Friday as widespread flooding continued along the Missouri River, causing numerous levee breaches and devastation to homes and farmland.

The National Weather Service cautioned that significant flooding would continue Friday, with many of the highest crests occurring into the evening. But rainfall expected Saturday in Kansas City shouldn’t exceed more than one-tenth to two-tenths of an inch, said meteorologist Spencer Mell, of the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill.

“At this point, we’re not expecting that to aggravate any flooding going on,” Mell said.

Since March 14, flood warnings along the Missouri River have covered 35,738 square miles and impacted more than 5.275 million people, the weather service said.

Flash flood warnings were issued Friday morning for Buchanan County and were in effect until 9:45 p.m. In the county seat of St. Joseph, the water level was at 31.4 feet Friday morning and expected to rise to 32 feet by later in the day, according to the weather service.

Authorities in St. Joseph ordered mandatory evacuations Friday morning for an area west of U.S. 59. St. Joseph police went door to door in the affected areas notifying residents they needed to leave.

On Friday night, the National Weather Service tweeted that it appeared the Missouri River at St. Joseph had set an all-time record high crest at 4:15 p.m. with a reading of 32.08 feet.

“If verified, this will break the record of 32.07’ set in July of 1993,” it said.

Across the state line in Doniphan County, Kan., authorities encouraged residents to stay out of the town of Elwood, where the river was expected to crest at 32 feet. The town was under a flash flood warning until 9:45 p.m. Friday.

The Kansas Highway Patrol closed the exit ramps going into Elwood on Friday morning, according to Doniphan County Emergency Management. Local officials said at 10:30 a.m. Friday that no one would be allowed back into town at this time “due to safety precautions.”

The City of Elwood posted on its Facebook page that the levee was “still intact with no current over topping.”

“Right now we are still dry, the next few hours are very critical,” it said. “Thought and prayers to all involved.”

The Missouri River continued to rise to near-record levels on Thursday forcing people to evacuate their homes. Some people in Craig, Mo., in Holt County got their first glimpse of the flooded town.

Twenty-four miles to the southwest in Atchison, Kan., the river level was at 30.9 feet with a predicted crest of 31.3 feet by Saturday morning.

Numerous water rescues were reported throughout the flooded areas, including one Thursday in which Missouri Water Patrol troopers launched a boat to rescue a driver whose car was swept off U.S. 59 in southern Buchanan County. The driver, the vehicle’s only occupant, was uninjured.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri got a firsthand look at the damage Friday morning as he toured flooded areas in Holt County with county commissioners.

“Hundreds of families have lost their grain, their farms, their homes,” Hawley tweeted at 10:22 a.m. Friday.

Hawley also tweeted about area farmer Fred Ramsay, who Hawley said “had just enough time to get his tractor to high ground before the flood hit & has been up for almost 72 hrs straight making sure it stays safe.”

Standing near the spot where U.S. 159 was submerged by the Missouri River, Hawley and the commissioners watched as water quickly flowed over the top of the levees on either side of the elevated road. An errant tire and tree debris bobbed in the water. In the distance, the Rulo Bridge in Nebraska could be seen but was unreachable.

“The thing that really strikes me here is that we can’t go on like this,” Hawley said. “We can’t keep doing this every four and five years to have these kinds of floods. I do think it does raise the question of how the river is being managed — the total river management across all of these states: Nebraska, Iowa, here to us in Missouri and on down.”

On Thursday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency in response to the flooding. He activated the state’s emergency operations plan, which allows state agencies to coordinate directly with local jurisdictions.

“So sad to see such tremendous loss,” Parson tweeted Thursday night. “But Missourians are resilient and we will fight this flood together.”

Hawley said focusing on relief was the top priority. Declaring a state of emergency was the first step, he said, in accessing Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief funds.

“I’ll be helping in any way I can that the state’s request for emergency funding gets to the president and gets approved,” Hawley said. “I’m sure he will approve and it gets back to the state as quickly as possible.”

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U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver surveyed the flood damage to his district Thursday and met with Parson on Friday to discuss the flooding and disaster relief.

Cleaver is frustrated with the way the Federal Emergency Management Agency doles out disaster relief, which he argued discriminates against small towns along the Missouri River.

“You don’t get any help from FEMA unless the cost (of damage) exceeds just under 9 million dollars,” Cleaver said. “If you live in a town of 250 houses and none of them are mansions, well, you can wipe out the whole town and not qualify. It’s absolutely asinine that we would do this on our country.”

Cleaver said even on a sunny day his district is bracing for more flooding.

“Right now it’s not rain that’s the problem, it’s the breaches and the snow melt… and the snow melt is going to continue,” he said.

A steady stream of people stopped by English Landing Park in Parkville, which was submerged by the Missouri River Friday, Mar. 22, 2019.

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Judy L. Thomas joined The Star in 1995 and is a member of the investigative team, focusing on watchdog journalism. Over three decades, the Kansas native has covered domestic terrorism, extremist groups and clergy sex abuse. Her stories on Kansas secrecy and religion have been nationally recognized.


Laura Bauer came to The Star in 2005 after spending much of her life in southwest Missouri. She’s a member of the investigative team focusing on watchdog journalism. In her 25-year career, Laura’s stories on child welfare, human trafficking, crime and Kansas secrecy have been nationally recognized.


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