Nixon activates National Guard to northwest Missouri

Thursday, June 24, 2010 | 7:21 p.m. CDT; updated 8:31 a.m. CDT, Friday, June 25, 2010

KANSAS CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced plans to send state National Guard troops to flood-weary northwest Missouri to deal with additional flooding that could result from an Army Corps of Engineers' water release out of an upstream reservoir.

"Any time there's more water coming at you, and you already have stresses on the system from downstream, you just want to make sure you have boots on the ground ready for what's coming," Nixon spokeswoman Christine Bertelson said Thursday.

The Missouri River has been high in northwest Missouri for several days. Dozens of roads have been closed in the region, and about 200 homes have been evacuated in Holt County because of high water. Thousands of acres of cropland have been destroyed. Water was also near the top of levees in the region, and a few have been overrun or destroyed.

"We're seeing massive damage," said Mark Sitherwood, Holt County presiding commissioner.

No injuries have been reported.

Sitherwood said the Gavins Point release was inevitable.

"They have to do what they have to do, and we certainly don't want one of those dams breaking up there," Sitherwood said Thursday.

Kevin Grode, reservoir regulation team leader for the Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha, Neb., said the release from Gavins Point reservoir in Nebraska would not likely cause additional flooding in northwest Missouri. He said the four-day release, which began Wednesday afternoon, would involve incremental releases of about 5,000 cubic feet per second until Saturday.

The corps will also monitor downstream conditions to see if it needed to make any adjustments to the release.

Grode said the release from Gavins Point was necessary and based on several factors, including water levels in the reservoirs and rivers, and weather forecasts that called for little or no rain in downstream regions over the next few days.

"We are anticipating that these releases will actually hit this area as the river is declining and will not be adding to the peak downstream," Grode said.

He said while northwest Missouri has experienced flooding, "there has also been a lot of flooding in the upstream area," and the releases out of Gavins Point are significantly lower than typical summer releases.

"We have to balance the releases out of Gavins keeping in mind what's going on with other releases upstream," he said. "We're taking advantage of this break in the weather to get these upper reservoirs out of their exclusive flood control zones."

Bertelson said the governor spoke with corps leaders Wednesday before the release and activated the state's National Guard later Wednesday. She said it was unclear Thursday how many troops would be sent to the area or where they would be stationed.

"Who knows what the weather is going to do," Bertelson said. "It may be business as usual for (the corps), but business as usual for the governor of Missouri is to be prepared."

Nixon asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday to assess flood damage on farms around Missouri. The request is the first step in declaring a disaster area, which would allow farmers to get financial help from the USDA's Farm Service Agency.

Two state parks in northwest Missouri have been closed because of flooding. Lewis and Clark State Park was closed Thursday, and Big Lake State Park has been closed since last week, when the Missouri River broke through a farm levee and left the park underwater.

Flooding also continued in eastern Missouri, where the Mississippi River was 5 to 6 feet above flood stage in several communities from Canton through St. Louis.

In Hannibal, the river was expected to crest at 6.5 feet above flood stage Thursday, then begin a slow descent. The Hannibal Jaycees, organizers of the town's biggest annual event, National Tom Sawyer Days, announced it would move away from a riverfront park because of the flood.

In St. Louis, the President Casino remained closed because of high water, and it might not reopen. Pinnacle Entertainment announced earlier this year it would give up the license by July 1 for the casino that sits on a riverboat near the Gateway Arch.

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