Official says Poplar Bluff in the middle of worst-case scenario; 200 Guardsmen on the scene

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 ~ Updated 1:05 PM

By DONNA FARLEY

Staff Writer

Approximately 200 Missouri National Guard troops are in Poplar Bluff, Mo., today to assist with extreme flooding resulting from several days of heavy rain and a levee break along County Road 607.

Gov. Jay Nixon will be in the area today to talk with emergency response officials and view damage.

Hundreds across the county were evacuated Monday from homes throughout south Poplar Bluff and south central Butler County. No fatalities have been reported related to flooding.

"A levee failure was our worst case scenario and we are in the middle of that," Emergency Management Agency Director Rick Sliger said at a morning briefing for city, county and state government agencies, as well as volunteer organizations who are responding to what is expected to be one of the worst flood events in the town's history.

"This afternoon we will continue with our original plan, to continue to evacuate the south central part of the county," Sliger continued.

Responders are coordinating efforts with the expectation that more heavy rain will fall today.

National Guard troops from the Columbia, Mo., area were arriving until 4 a.m. today. They are mobilizing now to assist with a variety of needs, including evacuations, security, sandbagging and commodity distribution.

An additional 200 troops are expected to be split between Butler County and eastern Missouri.

"We are assigned here to support you," said National Guard Joint Chief of Staff Col. Wendul Hagler II. "Everything we do is to expand your capability. ... Our end state is that before we leave you will have returned to some semblance of normalcy."

A portion of the levee in the 900 block of County Road 607 broke around 5 a.m. today, according to officials.

"The levee was holding until that point," Sliger said.

Officials are investigating a second possible breach. The water from the 607 breach is not expected to flow back into the city, Sliger said, but will likely move south toward Ackerman Ditch.

Flooding was in or had been inside 23 businesses as of this morning, including Calhoun's Food Rite, Money Mizer and B&H Electric.

"This is an area where we do not typically get water," said Deputy Police Chief Jeff Rolland.

Water was not inside homes in the Hampton Court area as of the meeting, but stood about 18 inches deep on streets there, city police officers reported.

A five man crew stopped a breach Monday night in the levee along Saxon Street by placing 200 sand bags, said Poplar Bluff Street Department Superintendent Jeremy Grable. The men made multiple trips in a 14 foot johnboat to stop the 6 inches of water coming through, he said.

Municipal Utilities is pumping an average of 1 million gallons per hour of water out an area at Second and Relief streets and into the Black River, General Manager Bill Back said. He has contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency in an attempt to get a larger pump to serve that area, as more water needs to be pumped out to prevent flooding to between 50 and 75 homes. It is an area that has not flooded in the past, he said.

Residents in the Coon Island area of the county were cut off from responders this morning, with rescue workers unable to reach the area by boat. Areas of deep water were interspersed with dry ground. County Fire Chief Bob Fredwell was attempting to find a tractor to use to transport a dialysis patient to medical care. A boat was able to reach the patient at about 10:30 a.m. and get him out.

A large amount of activity related to flash flooding occurred Monday night in the area of Highway 67 and Maude Street, according to officials. Rescue boats were able to travel through the drive through at First Midwest Bank.

"I've been so impressed with all of the different agencies here and the way you have worked together," Sliger said. "That is the reason we have not seen any fatalities."

Everyone should be proud of how county officials and area residents have responded to this emergency, State Rep. Todd Richardson Monday said from a Butler County highway shed where volunteers were packing sandbags. Seventeen pallets each containing 30 to 40 bags stood completed nearby, with many more already distributed to areas like Qulin.

"A lot of people just showed up here," Richardson said. "It's indicative of the way our community tries to step up. ... I spoke to officials with the city as well, even before today and they are very on top of the situation."

Personnel with city, county and state agencies have worked around the clock, from the early hours of flood warnings issued last weekend through today as the threat continues.

Responders have included Poplar Bluff police, Butler County sheriff's deputies, Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers, county and city road departments and fire departments and city utilities.

Butler County Health Department workers are staying in contact with about 700 special needs residents, who are dealing with a variety of medical conditions, Administer Robert Hudson reported at this morning's briefing.

Ozark Border Electric Cooperative staff made calls Monday to about 400 people in southern Butler County to notify them of the need to evacuate. They are fighting battles across the system, with about 100 people out of power in areas workers cannot reach.

Missouri Natural Gas cut off service to about 250 customers Monday in areas expected to flood. Service will be restored as soon as the threat is gone.

Work is focused on short term problems now, Richardson said, but he had also been in contact with the governor concerning a possible declaration of a state of emergency.

"We obviously don't know what the magnitude of the problem is going to be yet," Richardson. "When I spoke with the governor's office, he was very receptive."

Anyone wishing to make donations is asked to contact the Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce.

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