Levee breaks flood some areas; more flooding possible

Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Sandbaggers load a truck trailer along the Katy Trail in Rocheport, Mo., Tuesday May 8, 2007. (AP Photo/Dan Gill)

AGENCY, Mo. -- As residents in central Missouri prepared for flooding from rain-choked rivers, levees along the Missouri River gave way, flooding the tiny town of Big Lake on Tuesday.

Mark Sitherwood, presiding commissioner of Holt County, said five major levees along the Missouri River south of Big Lake broke Monday, as well as four smaller levees along the Tarkio River and the Tarkio Creek. The water from those breaks reached the Village of Big Lake, a town of about 150 permanent residents and another 150 summer residents in northwest Missouri, Monday night and Tuesday.

"The town and lake are completely under water," Sitherwood said. "The town is a loss. At this time, we don't know, but it looks like that's what's going to happen."

No injuries were reported. Big Lake, which is about two miles from the Missouri River, is about 35 miles northwest of St. Joseph.

Across northwest Missouri, rivers and streams overran their banks. On Monday, Gov. Matt Blunt declared a state of emergency and signed an executive order authorizing the mobilization of Missouri National Guard troops. Voluntary evacuations were underway in several western Missouri counties.

"Once we've dealt with the entire flood across the state, we'll begin to evaluate the damage and find out what kind of assistance might be available to compensate or help people impacted by the damage," Blunt said Tuesday at a news conference in St. Joseph.

Later Tuesday in Jefferson City, Blunt helped fill sandbags, which would be used if needed to hold back waters and keep U.S. Highway 63 open near the capital.

Most Big Lake residents evacuated Monday but a handful of residents were rescued by boat from their homes Tuesday, Sitherwood said.

The city of Craig also was being threatened north of Big Lake because of the levee break on the Tarkio River, Sitherwood said. And the rising water from the Big Lake area also was threatening the town of Fortescue. None of the broken levees was operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

Meanwhile, St. Joseph was spared flooding when the Missouri River crested about 4 feet lower than had been predicted, said Matt Dux, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. More rain had been predicted for this week, but when that didn't happen, water levels crested lower than predicted in feeder streams and the Missouri River, Dux said.

"We're very, very blessed," said Bill Brinton, emergency management director for Buchanan County. "The river didn't crest as high as it was supposed to, and all the levees held."

About 65,000 sandbags were filled, but not all of them were needed. About 6,100 were sent north to help hold back floodwaters in Craig, said St. Joseph spokeswoman Mary Robertson.

Many residents evacuated the center of Agency, a town of about 100 east of St. Joseph that is surrounded on three sides by the Platte River and was hit hard by the flood of 1993, one of the most costly and devastating floods in U.S. history.

By midday Tuesday, a few Agency homes were partially submerged, as were nearby roads and several gravestones at the town's cemetery.

"It isn't as bad as 1993," said Pauline Gibson, 71, who did not evacuate her Agency trailer home but had her pictures and important papers packed in case she had to leave quickly. "But it's working on it. We don't want it like '93, but they say more rain is coming and that's not good."

In Parkville, a town of about 4,000 along the Missouri River 10 miles north of Kansas City, 18 businesses were shuttered Tuesday after a mandatory evacuation was ordered for the southern part of town closest to the river.

Tom Hutsler, who lives in a condominium above the Parkville antique store he owns, had packed merchandise from the basement into moving trucks, but didn't expect the flooding to reach the first floor.

"One thing we learned in the flood of '93 is water is going to go where it wants to go, and sandbagging is fruitless," Hutsler said.

Farther east, the Boone County Fire Protection District and the Columbia/Boone County Office of Emergency Management put out a call for volunteers to begin sandbagging Tuesday along the Missouri River, beginning in Rocheport and moving south toward Huntsdale, McBaine and Hartsburg.

And in Jefferson City, officials began evacuating the municipal airport Tuesday as the capital began preparing for flooding expected to hit Wednesday or Thursday.

After floods in 1993 and 1995, Jefferson City raised the elevation of its riverside sewage treatment plant, and the federal government bought out scores of homes on the north shore of the river. But proposals for a super levee never materialized, leaving the airport and remaining businesses vulnerable anytime the river stage exceeds 30 feet.

Attorney Tom Rost was tending his vegetables Tuesday but feared they would be lost -- along with the sprouting crops of nearby farms.

"I think it's going to be serious," said Rost, offering free lettuce to passers-by.

The National Weather Service predicted that the river would crest at 34 feet in Boonville by Friday evening, or about 13 feet above flood stage.

Associated Press Writers David Lieb and Chris Blank also contributed to this report.

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