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State officials prepare for potentially disastrous floods

Wednesday, May 9, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:13 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — As Gov. Matt Blunt toured the swollen Missouri River by helicopter Tuesday, state agencies readied for what could be the second-worst flood in the state’s history.

The growing river, which crested at 23.23 feet at 1 p.m. Tuesday, has already begun causing concerns. Flood stage at Jefferson City measures 23 feet.

The swollen river forced workers to shut down wastewater treatment plants in Independence, Gladstone and Liberty, allowing sewage to bypass the plants and flush into the Missouri River, said Larry Archer, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Archer said the department allows sewage to bypass the plants once conditions become too dangerous for workers or potentially damaging to the facility.

In Clay County, near Missouri City, workers used sandbags to stop a levee breach. Officials also organized a sandbagging operation in Moniteau County, near Sandy Hook, said Paul Reinsch, spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

On Monday, Blunt declared a state of emergency and authorized Missouri’s Emergency Operations Center. He also waived some Missouri Department of Transportation and Federal Motor Carrier restrictions on commercial vehicles that are helping with flood relief.

But conditions are expected to deteriorate.

The Missouri River reached a record 37 feet in 1993. According to the National Weather Service, the river is expected to reach 30 feet near Jefferson City on Thursday and crest at 32.9 feet Friday afternoon.

“If that were to be true, I think it would be the second-highest river stage in history for Jefferson City,” Reinsch said

A quiet calm hung over the capital city Tuesday. Although life went on as usual in the Capitol, life outside was noticeably different. The Capitol’s three low-lying parking lots were nearly vacant, and just across the river at the Jefferson City Memorial Airport, workers moved furniture and opened hangar doors to let high water flow through.

Sgt. Mary Jones, spokeswoman for the Missouri National Guard, said no units had been mobilized yet, but 10,300 Guard members are on standby. The National Guard has also sent liaisons to counties that have erected emergency centers, she said.

“We would be there to assist any community needing help,” Jones said. “We’re ready and prepared for anything that might happen.”

Possible duties include piling sandbags, directing traffic and distributing food, among others.

Jones said Blunt spent part of Tuesday with the National Guard, touring the river via helicopter.

Highway patrol officials also took to the air. No damage was reported near Jefferson City. Reinsch said if the situation worsens, the Highway Patrol would survey area bridge conditions and, if needed, work with the Department of Transportation to block roads and set up detours.

Archer said the department has been working with water and wastewater plants that could be threatened by the rising river. The department has already called in off-duty personnel to help with the effort.

“The primary focus right now as things are developing is working with water and wastewater plants,” Archer said.

Archer said he expected the flood to wash a lot of debris, such as trash and logs, onto residents’ properties. He said the DNR’s Web site would provide residents with debris-removal information.


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