UPDATE: Craig residents to evacuate homes due to impending floodwaters

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | 7:48 p.m. CDT; updated 11:48 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 24, 2011
Residents pitch in to dig a temporary levee in a farmers field on the South side of the town of Craig on June 8, 2011. The levee should help protect the Golden Triangle Ethanol plant from the potential Missouri River floodwaters. Since June 8, the potential for flood damage has come closer. As of Tuesday, residents of Craig had 48 hours to evacuate.

KANSAS CITY — Residents in the northwest Missouri community of Craig were given a 48-hour mandatory evacuation order Tuesday as floodwaters from the Missouri River threatened the Holt County town of 300 people.

Other towns in the county, such as tiny Corning nine miles north of Craig, and Big Lake and Fortescue to the south, already have been evacuated as the flood moves south from the Iowa-Nebraska border.

In Craig, home to a Golden Triangle Energy ethanol plant, volunteers and inmates from nearby correctional facilities were busy sandbagging around town as floodwaters threatened to overtop or breach area levees.

Craig City Administrator Terry Eaton, who in recent years has been overseeing efforts to get a new water plant in the city, said some residents will remain in town to help fight back the water.

"We're here to stay and put up one hell of a fight," Eaton said. "We're not giving up ship."

Water has filled fields on both sides of Interstate 29 at Corning, about 13 miles south of Rock Port where the interstate has already been closed because of flooding at Hamburg, Iowa.

Marty Liles, an engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation, said MoDOT officials met Tuesday with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to map out plans in case it's necessary to close the interstate at Corning.

"There's so much water and only so much area for that water to flow and fill up," Liles said. "It's kind of hard to get a good understanding of when it's going to come in."

He said water levels Tuesday morning along the interstate were about the same as they were the previous night, and water would have to come up another three to four feet before it goes over the highway.

Bill Gordon, one of Holt County's three commissioners, said Craig, which had already been losing businesses and residents, could be doomed in the aftermath of the expected flooding.

"This is probably going to destroy Craig," Gordon said. "The bank has moved out, the hardware store, the restaurant is closed. The post office has moved its service to Mound City. There was a seed store there, and a couple small mechanic shops. Craig is probably going to be a ghost town when this is done, all thanks to the Corps of Engineers."

Many along the river blame the corps for its management of the waterway and decision to release 150,000 cubic feet of water per second from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota. The corps has said the increased flow is necessary to relieve pressure on dams caused by up to 8 inches of rain that fell last month in Wyoming, eastern Montana and western North Dakota and South Dakota.

Eaton, who also pins blame on the corps for the scope and duration of the expected flood, is more optimistic than Gordon about whether Craig residents will return to their homes. He noted that the water treatment plant project he's been guiding was approved recently for funding.

"That's always a concern, people coming back after the flood," Eaton said. But he noted that residents returned after several previous floods, including two others this decade.

Roger Hill, general manager of Golden Triangle, said the facility is 7 feet higher than the rest of Craig and has its own elevated wells on-site. He said his biggest concern is transportation, should area highways be closed.

"The big problem we face is no rail service," Hill said. "Burlington Northern has cut all rail services on this line."

He said the company has been trucking its products to Kansas City, where they are loaded onto trains. But if the highways close and the trucks can't make the 100-mile trek there, the plant would have to be shut down.

"If we can't get corn in, alcohol out, feed for our feed customers, that would put us out of business for the duration" of the flood, he said.

Meanwhile, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has ordered the State Emergency Management Agency to help communities obtain sand.

The governor's announcement Tuesday came a day after The Associated Press reported that a shortage of available sand could potentially hamper flood-fighting efforts along the Missouri river.

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