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Missouri River flooding prompts northwest Missouri evacuations

Friday, June 24, 2011 | 8:13 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri River flooding prompted state officials Friday to close a park near the swollen river and forced some residents in northwestern Missouri to flee.

Lewis and Clark State Park between Kansas City and St. Joseph was closed, but park officials already removed equipment and prepared for high water because the park is on an oxbow lake near the Missouri River and has flooded in the past. People camping in the park were allowed to move to another park farther south, and officials were monitoring water levels to determine when Lewis and Clark State Park could be reopened.

Floodwaters upstream inundated bottomland in Atchison County, and residents began leaving after a levee failed Thursday night. Officials said the levee breach was about three miles from a bridge crossing the Missouri River and appeared to be about 300 yards wide. Phelps City was flooded, and water was entering nearby Watson and Langdon, threatening the roughly 250 people living in those towns, officials said.

In Watson, the water was rising Friday as Wenona Fischer made final sweeps through her home to gather some heirlooms and smaller items left behind when her bigger possessions were moved. Fischer said a big flood in 1993 did not compare to what they were seeing now.

"We are surprised that we had this much this fast. We were not expecting this," said Fischer, 56. "In 1993, when it flooded, it was nothing like this. This is a lot quicker and a lot faster."

She estimated water was about a foot deep around lunchtime Friday and said it had risen several inches in about an hour.

The area could see water for some time. The Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing water from upstream dams after heavy rain and snow melt. Water releases at the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota hit 160,000 cubic feet of water per second Thursday, and the corps plans to continue releasing water at that rate until at least August.

Several areas downriver got some temporary relief Friday. In southeastern Nebraska, near the Cooper nuclear power plant, the Missouri River had dropped by more than a foot, but forecasters expected the water to rise this weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

Sen. Roy Blunt met Friday with officials from the Jefferson City area to discuss flood preparations around the capital city, where the river was just below flood stage. Officials described their efforts, which include finding places to stay for people who commute to Jefferson City if highways are closed. Although many homes in Jefferson City are in the bluffs or away from the river, flooding could threaten several houses and businesses, hotels, some city streets, an airport and a water treatment plant.

Speaking on a boat ramp near the Capitol, Blunt said the corps did a good job implementing the current plan for managing the river, but it was time to revisit that plan and consider changes. Blunt said flood control should be the top priority.

"It's a real opportunity to look at the plan again," he said.

Blunt and Rep. Sam Graves were to take an air tour of flooded areas Saturday and meet with residents and local leaders in Rock Port and St. Joseph.


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