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Missouri recovers from floods, braces for more rain

Thursday, March 27, 2008 | 9:30 p.m. CDT; updated 6:33 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Mid-Missouri has seen isolated flooding on roadways and basements but so far has been spared the devastation seen in other parts of the state.

Anthony Lupo, associate professor of atmospheric science at MU, said another storm system is predicted to move into the area on Sunday and Monday. A system also moved through Columbia on Thursday night, which dumped rain and hail in parts of the city.

Whether the storms could bring flooding, though, is anybody’s guess, Lupo said. The spring season poses difficulties to forecasters because it is hard to predict if storm systems will bring large amounts of rain with them, he said.

“What’s happening is the jet stream, or river of air in the upper atmosphere, is moving to the north toward its summer position,” Lupo said.

This causes more air flow out of the south that has gained moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and causes the increased precipitation, he said.

Rivers such as the Missouri and Mississippi are continuing to rise even after it rains. “Any day that is not raining and the sun is shining will help the situation,” Lupo said.

With 70 counties declared a disaster last week, Missouri is experiencing one of the wettest springs in history, Department of Natural Resources water chief Michael Wells told the Associated Press.

FEMA assesses damage

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator David Paulison was in Missouri on Thursday to visit areas damaged by last week’s floods.

Paulison planned to visit flooded towns along the Meramec River southwest of St. Louis on Thursday afternoon, then travel to southern Missouri to see hard-hit towns there. U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, will join Paulison in southeast Missouri.

“I’m glad the administrator is coming to southern Missouri to see the scope and scale of this disaster firsthand,” Emerson said in a statement. “We’ve got homes and farmland still under water. This disaster is going to take a severe toll on the people of our region as well as the economy.”

FEMA agents are spreading out through low-lying towns, such as Eureka and Pacific, assessing damage in homes and business that were inundated after 5 to 12 inches of rain drenched parts of the state early last week.

Paulison planned to speak at a news conference in Valley Park, where a new $49 million levee built by the Army Corps of Engineers held back a 38-foot flood surge Saturday — what one Corps engineer called a 100-year event.

Spring release

The Corps, which manages water flow on rivers and releases extra water to support navigation, fisheries and drinking water supplies, announced Wednesday that it eliminated the spring release on the Missouri River below Kansas City.

The corps said the move will still provide a pulse of water that’s needed this time of year to prompt spawning of an endangered fish, the pallid sturgeon. But it eliminates the extra flow in the flood-weary state.

“This option achieves the benefit for the pallid sturgeon in the upper river while completely eliminating the flood risk from the pulse downstream of Kansas City to the confluence with the Mississippi River,” Larry Cieslik, who oversees water management on the Missouri River, in Omaha, Neb.

The decision came after efforts earlier in the week by the state of Missouri to stop the release failed.

U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton ruled Tuesday she found no evidence to show the corps was not following the law. And, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon’s appeal of Hamilton’s decision.

State officials, including Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, serving as acting governor while Gov. Matt Blunt is out of the country, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., urged the federal government to halt the spring rise. The corps also heard from citizens, spokesman Paul Johnston said.

Kinder on Thursday thanked the corps, adding “Missourians can rest assured that their voices have been heard in this time of great disaster in our state.”

Blunt’s response was less enthusiastic. He said while he is encouraged by the corps’ decision, “we stand by our constant position that the so-called ‘spring rise’ is unnecessary in the first place.”

Nixon called the decision “welcome news,” and said the corps felt “intense pressure” from the threat of more legal action.

The corps usually releases extra water in March, and again in May, to prompt spawning of the pallid sturgeon, a fish that managed to survive over millennia but is now on the endangered species list.

That’s in addition to even greater volumes of water the corps releases from Gavins Point throughout much of the year for municipal reasons. Missouri did not challenge releases for those purposes.

The corps has said that despite widespread flooding in Missouri last week, river levels are dropping, and the release would have posed no risk to public safety. The agency continually monitors water levels, weather forecasts and other data to guide its decisions.

In arguing its case earlier this week, the corps said forecasts indicated that river stages in central and eastern Missouri would remain well below flood stage by the time the released water arrives next week.

— Missourian reporter Laura Medina contributed to this report.


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