Near-1993 flood levels predicted as rivers in Mo. breach banks

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:52 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo.— Numerous communities were evacuating their residents Monday as the National Weather Service predicted near-1993 flooding levels across much of the state, authorities said.

Rivers and streams already were overrunning their banks Monday in parts of northwest Missouri and flooding was expected later in the week farther east. As the floodwaters rose, Gov. Matt Blunt declared a state of emergency and signed an executive order authorizing the mobilization of Missouri National Guard troops.

"He is working to ensure all the state's resources are readied for what we know is coming," said Jessica Robinson, a spokeswoman for Blunt.

Susie Stonner, a spokeswoman for the State Emergency Management Agency, said emergency shelters had been set up in St. Joseph and Mound City. She said evacuations — most of them voluntary — were under way in some towns in Atchison, Holt, Jackson, Clay, Platte, Andrew and Daviess counties.

As a precaution, Kansas City Power & Light Co. temporarily ceased operation Monday of its coal-fired plant near Weston as the nearby Missouri River approached flood level.

"There's been no damage to any of our facilities, but based on what we are seeing of the rising river levels, we thought that was the prudent step to safeguard resources and equipment," said Matthew Tidwell, a spokesman for the utility.

The same complex of storms that churned up the deadly enhanced F-5 twister in the southwest Kansas town of Greensburg generated the heavy rain that is causing the flooding, said Andy Bailey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill. Northwest and southeast Missouri, southwest Iowa and much of Kansas received from 4 to 7 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, he said.

Since 1993, he said, only two or three other flooding episodes have been comparable to what forecasters are predicting in the next several days. He said the flooding won't be as severe as the floods in 1993, which were the result of the melting of heavy winter snow pack in upstream states combined with several rounds of severe weather and heavy rains over a two-month period.

"But make no mistake," Bailey said, "this is a major flood."

The 1993 flood, one of the most costly and devastating in U.S. history, prompted numerous buyouts. Stonner said that is good news as the state prepares for another round of flooding.

"Many of the people who would have been living in the flood plains are no longer there," she said.

By late Monday afternoon, about 60 percent of Mosby was covered with two to four feet of water, said D.C. Rogers, the director of emergency services for Clay County. He said the town's 242 residents began self-evacuating Monday morning as Fishing River, which runs through the center of the low-lying town, began overflowing its banks.

Only one route into town remained open Monday evening. Rogers said northbound U.S. 69 was closed around 11 a.m. Monday after the river covered a bridge in Mosby.

"It hasn't gotten this much water since 1993," Rogers said.

He said the flooding in Mosby might have been worse, but authorities managed to plug a damaged dam with sandbags. The private earthen dam contains a 20-acre lake, and if it were breached, its waters would flow into Clear Creek, which runs into Fishing River, which goes through Mosby.

"Last word I got is it's holding," Rogers said. "Hopefully, the waters will recede, and that guy can fix his dam."

In Kearney, Missouri 92 was closed after Clear Creek overran its banks and covered the roadway. Rogers said the road closures in Mosby and Kearney were befuddling drivers, and the emergency center was helping dozens of people find alternate routes.

Also Monday, Clay County helped a man rescue six emus from his property in Missouri City on Missouri 210. The man was putting the animals on the truck when the vehicle got stuck in the mud.

"We had volunteers there chasing emus around," Rogers said. "The Missouri River got within a foot of the man's truck before it was pulled. The guy told me, I was on the phone with him, 'I can spit in the river.'"

More flooding is expected Tuesday in numerous communities, including the town of Agency, where forecasters were predicting that waters in the nearby Platte River would reach 15 feet above flood stage and less than a foot below its crest from the 1993 floods.

"At that stage, we expect the entire town of Agency to be flooded," Bailey said.

In St. Joseph, the Missouri River was expected to crest around 1 p.m. Tuesday, with the river reaching about 10 feet above flood stage.

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves delayed a trip to Washington to join more than 120 people filling sandbags Monday at St. Joseph's YMCA parking lot.

"I can serve the district better here," he told the St. Joseph News-Press while stacking pallets with freshly filled sandbags.

At the Rosecrans Memorial Airport in St. Joseph, members of Missouri Air National Guard's 139th Airlift Wing moved eight C-130 planes to Forbes Field in Topeka. The unit was not officially evacuated, but guardsmen spent Monday moving items to second floors or to higher ground.

Bailey said late Monday afternoon that several farm levees up and down streams will be breached in the next 24 to 36 hours.

"The rainfall has pretty much ended," he said. "Now we are dealing with all the runoff."

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