Weather News

More rain and broken levees: River flooding threatens Missouri towns

After a record-setting month of rainfall in May, river water is rising around the Kansas City region, leading to breached levees and flooding in Missouri communities.

Across the state, 43 levees have been over-topped since May 22, officials said Monday.

“Dangerous conditions continue to persist along the Missouri River,” said Jud Kneuvean, emergency management chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Kansas City.

Flooding has hit eastern Jackson County, the nearby town of Lexington, and Hardin in Ray County. And with rain in the forecast for much of the coming week, waters could rise still further.

Army Corps officials face melting snow pack in the northern basin of the Missouri River and heavy rains in southern portions in the Midwest.

In Ray County, between Hardin and Norborne, several levees have broken in the past few days, Hardin city clerk Patty Lam said. While city officials were originally anticipating water to flow down east, Lam said, now the water is backing up and coming into the south part of town.

While no homes were damaged early Monday afternoon, Lam said, she anticipates one home at least will be flooded by the evening. On Monday water was starting to come through Hardin Cemetery again, reminding locals of the Great Flood of 1993, when water lifted Hardin coffins from their graves, starting a search for the 1,500 bodies that went missing.

Now, the National Guard, volunteers and prisoners from St. Joseph are all preparing the town for the worst by stockpiling sandbags to protect homes.

As of Monday afternoon, Hardin officials calculating the best course of action to protect the town were watching the weather.

Rain was anticipated to start as soon as Monday night, continuing at times throughout the week and picking up toward the weekend, with widespread storms dumping about 1 to 3 inches of rain Friday to Sunday morning.

“We will probably be sandbagging some points from around the city to hopefully block some water from entering, but we’re kind of waiting on that, because if we get a lot of rain, we don’t know what to bottle up,” Lam said. “We don’t know what to do right now with anticipated rainfall.”

Closer to Kansas City, flooding has hit eastern Jackson County, where two levees were breached along the Missouri River Saturday near the town of Levasy. The floodwater has closed parts of U.S. 24 on either side of the town, while further east Missouri 224 is closed from Napoleon to Wellington and from there to Lexington.

Lexington residents have a 50-50 chance of losing the use of their water plant, which was built in 1863, Mayor Fred Wiedner said. While the town itself isn’t going to flood, there’s potential for about 4,700 residents in Lexington to be without water for about a month.

“It’s a constant battle. We’ve got 12 pumps currently running in and around the river of the building, just trying to keep the building dry in addition to the wall of sandbags we have surrounding it,” Wiedner said. “That’s really only our pressing threat right now.”

Though a new water plant is being built on higher ground, it’s not projected to be completed for about three more years.

In the interim, the mayor asked Lexington residents to conserve water. As of Monday they were using about 30% of the water they would normally use, Wiedner said.

Wiedner said about 90,000 bottles of water have been stocked in town by different organizations and state agencies. Around 12,000 sandbags were placed in town by volunteers in an effort to protect the town, and more specifically, its water plant.

“We are preparing for the worst while still trying to save the place,” Wiedner said.

River levels were receding near Lexington Monday, and while Wiedner said there needs to be about a two-foot decrease before it really helps the town, chances of keeping the main water resource increase as every hour passes without rain.

Much of what happens on the Missouri River here depends on what happens upstream. Flooding continues to vex rivers that flow into the Missouri River further north.

The Army Corps on Saturday increased the amount of water flowing from the Gavin’s Point Dam at the South Dakota-Nebraska state line to 75,000 cubic feet per second, the second highest level on record, surpassing the 70,000 cubic feet per second released in 1997. The record is 160,000 cubic feet per second, set in 2011.

Kevin Low, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Kansas City, said flooding remains a concern with the James and Vermillion rivers in South Dakota, two substantial rivers that flow into the Missouri River.

It may help, Low said, that the rainfall this week doesn’t come all on the same day.

“The good thing about that is it’s supposed to be spread out,” Low said. “No one day has more than, say, one inch of rain over the next seven (days).”

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