UPDATE: Omaha mayor signs flooding emergency declaration as Missouri River rises

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | 7:38 p.m. CDT
As rising flood waters from the Missouri River get close, neighbor Kelli Shaner helps remove the contents of a farm house belonging to Dale and Lois Diefenbaugh, in Fort Calhoun, Neb., on Tuesday. Some Nebraska and Iowa homeowners who live in low-lying areas near the Missouri River have already started evacuating to avoid floodwaters, but so far the flooding has mostly affected farmland in the two states.

OMAHA, Neb. — Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle signed an emergency declaration Wednesday as the city contends with the swollen Missouri River, but he and others said they expect to escape major flooding.

"We're on top of this," Suttle said, noting the declaration will help the city get state and federal aid if needed.

Officials in Nebraska and Iowa have been monitoring the river, which is expected to crest near Omaha at record levels of between 34 and 36 feet in late June after more water is released from reservoirs in North Dakota and South Dakota.

The river serves as Omaha's eastern border. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers measured the river at approximately 30 feet on Wednesday. Flood stage is 29 feet.

Col. Robert Ruch with the Army Corps of Engineers said Omaha has a 42-foot levee, and he's confident it will protect the city.

"We have a lot of room to work with here," he said.

Ruch said he has no concerns about the levee's structural integrity, and city workers have been inspecting it every day.

Suttle said the city will have flood pumps on standby in case heavy rains trap water on the dry side of the levee. He declined to give a worst-case scenario for flooding and said the city has a great flood plan.

Also Wednesday, the city activated a command center to handle flood-related issues and was preparing to activate 211 as a resource for residents with flooding questions.

Water has already spilled over the Missouri's banks in several low-lying areas along the river in Nebraska and Iowa. More than 1,000 acres of farmland in southeast Nebraska have flooded, and water is encroaching on cities such as Fort Calhoun, Neb., and Sloan, Iowa.

The corps predicts that 2011 could be one of the wettest years on record in the Missouri River basin and warns that the high water level and flooding issues will likely worsen over the next month. Officials are predicting record river flows and large releases from upstream reservoirs because of steady spring rain and above-normal snow pack. 

In South Dakota, the surging river is expected to jeopardize hundreds of homes and businesses in low-lying areas. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard is making plans for possible evacuations for three cities in the southeast part of that state.

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