Boone County has sandbags ready for Missouri River flooding

Sunday, June 12, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — An estimated 52,000 sandbags are at the ready, and pumps were positioned in towns along the Missouri River in Boone County to counter the flooding anticipated with record releases from upstream reservoirs.

Releases set to peak Tuesday are expected to reach Boonville by Sunday, June 19, and push the Missouri River to levels ranging from 27 to 33 feet on the Boonville gauge. The range of the forecast has made it difficult to know what severity of flood to prepare for, said Scott Olsen, chief of the Boone County Fire Protection District. Above-average rainfall could push river levels past that forecast.

"If we're at 27 feet, we're not going to worry too much," Olsen said. "Once we get to 30, 31 feet is where we would start responding."

Olsen added that the county was looking into buying more sandbags in case the river reaches the high end of its forecast at 33 feet. Rocheport and Hartsburg, in particular, would be among the first places to receive sandbags. Hartsburg has 25,000 of the county's sandbags, and Rocheport, Huntsdale and Hartsburg all will have pumps ready to release water that gets trapped behind levees or sandbag walls, Olsen said.

In Rocheport, 1,700 feet of concrete barrier is available to line the Katy Trail and add three extra feet of protection for the area, Mayor John Zondca said. Most of the town is well protected, he said. Even during the extensive flooding of 1993, much of it was unaffected.

Zondca said that if river levels approach the high end of the forecast, he will recommend evacuation for three houses along the trail and a handful of others in town.

"We want to wait for some good, solid numbers before we do anything," he said. "In 2007, the walls were put down along the trail, and I don't think it got above 27 feet. That's really nothing out of the ordinary for the summer."

McBaine and Huntsdale are a lower priority for sandbags because they have taller levees, Olsen said. The McBaine levee, recently repaired, holds river levels up to 34 feet. Huntsdale Mayor Debby Lancaster said her town's levee withstands up to 35.5 feet. Huntsdale has no sandbags ready, she said.

"I'm not too concerned with the river level until I see something coming down there," she said.

Howard County officials are prepared for nearly 100 residents to evacuate Franklin if river levels approach what they were in 1993, Emergency Management Director Brian Kunze said.  The county is preparing shelters and has coordinated with the Central Missouri Food Bank in Columbia in case evacuations are necessary. Kunze expects they will be if the river nears 33 feet.

The Howard County Health Department has also received an extra supply of tetanus vaccine in case flood-fighting volunteers get cuts or infections.

Cooper County has areas preparing for evacuation and levee repair, Emergency Management Director Tom White said. The village of Wooldridge floods if the river reaches 30 feet, and residents have been advised of a possible evacuation, White said. The county has sent 5,000 sandbags to Wooldridge and has requested 54,000 more for Boonville and other areas.

White said the county also has requested 10 prisoners from the Missouri Department of Corrections to help clean and assess the levee protecting Wooldridge.

Levees are also a main point of concern in Cole County, its emergency management director, Bill Farr, said. That's because the Missouri River is forecast to rise to between 27 and 35 feet at Jefferson City. Any level 30 feet or higher would overflow the area's levees. If that happens, floodwaters could reach the city's sewer plant, the airport could shut down and some businesses on the north side of the river also would temporarily close.

Farr said there is a chance the Amtrak rails along the river also would flood.

The city and county have stored 20,000 sandbags and have put in an order with the State Emergency Management Agency for 25,000 more, Farr said. He also said neither the city nor the county has plans to begin sandbagging, but they are providing sandbags to residents along the river. The city also has organized a task force to prepare for and respond to any flood problems in the Jefferson City area.

Farr said residents in low-lying areas such as Osage City or across the river, in what used to be Cedar City might need to evacuate, but he expected they would handle that on their own.

"Those people have been living down their all their lives. They built down there. They know the consequences of it," Farr said. "But we will give them all the support they need."

On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Nixon directed three Missouri National Guard task forces to coordinate flood-fighting efforts. Howard, Cooper and Moniteau counties fall into Task Force Missouri, which covers the western portion of the state, while Task Force Mississippi, handling the eastern portion of the state, incorporates Boone and Cole counties. A third task force will focus entirely on the St. Joseph area.

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