A speedy, coordinated response, combined with declining crest forecasts along the Missouri River, has officials and residents of Boone County towns optimistic that damage from flooding this week will be minimal.
Crest forecasts from the National Weather Service on Wednesday called for a high-water mark of 32.8 feet at Boonville on Saturday. That’s more than 11 feet above flood stage but six inches lower than Tuesday’s forecast. At Jefferson City, the river was predicted to crest near 31.7 feet on Sunday. That is more than a foot lower than the forecast peak from the day before.
Columbia officials and the chiefs of the Boone County and Southern Boone County fire protection districts said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that the situation is under control and that there is no need for more volunteers for sandbagging and other flood-relief efforts. At that time, volunteer crews were still working to build a sandbag wall in Rocheport, but Boone County Fire Chief Steve Paulsell said that work would be done by 8 or 9 p.m.
Close to 50 volunteers gathered outside the American Legion Hall in Hartsburg by noon Wednesday to help build a sandbag levee. Many of the volunteers were students from Southern Boone County High School who were granted excused absences. Students said the school let classes out at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday so they could lend a hand. The Boone County Sheriff’s Department brought 10 inmates from the county jail to help.
“They’re mostly guys with misdemeanor offenses,” Deputy Scott Stenner said. “They’re chosen because of their good behavior and because they can be trusted to be out here.”
While Hartsburg played it safe, residents were hoping the forecasted crest would continue to fall.
“If they keep dropping it like they have been, then we may only have to hold the outer levee” and not worry about water rushing into town, Ashland fire district Chief Klifton Bullard said.
Bullard said at the news conference later that Hartsburg should have time to react if the river rises higher than anticipated. “Should the water break through the first levee, we have about 12 to 30 hours of work to strengthen the backup.”
Despite the optimism, Rick Snowdell decided that rather than abandoning his trailer in the river bottom, he’d simply take it with him. The 51-year-old sat in his truck and watched as a team from KW Transport put his mobile home on a flatbed trailer and moved it away from its location on Bush Landing Road.
“They moved me in last year and said to call anytime when I needed them again,” Snowdell said. “So, I rang them up yesterday, and they showed up this morning.”
The move didn’t go as smoothly as expected. The streets of Hartsburg were not wide enough to accommodate the rig and trailer as it turned onto Second Street. It took 15 minutes of forward and reverse shifts to negotiate the hairpin turn.
Hartsburg Mayor Nancy Grant spent much of the day delivering bottled water, soda and snacks to the sandbag volunteers. “Please know we are so appreciative of your coming and helping,” she said to workers.
Upriver at Huntsdale, residents were expecting little impact. Levees there are designed to hold back river levels up to 35 feet. Still, the swollen river is intimidating. Connie Brissette, whose brother runs Katfish Katy’s restaurant and campground, said power to the campground has been cut off.
“I can see the water from here, which you can’t usually see from the store,” Brissette said.
Campground host Judy Murphy said residents measured water levels at the Katfish Katy’s boat ramp. It was rising about two feet every eight hours, she said, and she guessed the river current was 7 to 10 mph.
“And there’s trash like you wouldn’t believe,” Murphy said, mentioning tires, refrigerators, basketballs, footballs and trees. “They’re going fast toward St. Louis.”
The Columbia/Boone County Office of Emergency Management reported that residents of McBaine had voluntarily evacuated and that there appeared to be no risk to the small community of Wilton.
While flood levels at Boonville were expected to cover the Missouri-Pacific Railroad tracks and parts of some streets, the Isle of Capri Casino appeared to be in good shape. Marketing director Heather Costigan said casino staff members are keeping in touch with the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A crest of 32.8 feet, however, would fall below the casino’s 36-foot protection.
“It’s business as usual,” Costigan said. “We’re in good shape.”
Back in Boone County, there were only a handful of road closings, most near the river. They included portions of Smith Hatchery Road, Route N, Providence Landing and Rocheport Gravel Road.
The Missouri Department of Transportation reported that U.S. 63, which was heavily damaged in the Great Flood of 1993, appears to be safe this time around. A forecasted crest of 31.7 feet at Jefferson City would be more than two feet short of the level it would take to cover the highway just north of the capital.
The City of Columbia and Boone County have set up an emergency operations center in the basement of the Old Armory Sports Center at Seventh and Ash streets. At the news conference there, City Manager Bill Watkins and Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said that all is well at the city’s wastewater treatment wetlands near McBaine.
The officials also said the total bill for flood-relief efforts thus far is $4,700, not counting fuel expenses, personnel costs or material that comes from existing city and county inventories. The Columbia/Boone County Health Department gave dozens of tetanus shots to volunteers to protect them from contaminated flood water.
The river is expected to drop quickly after it crests this weekend, but Paulsell said the sandbags will remain — just in case.
“I don’t think any of us want to do this again anytime soon,” he said, “so the bags will probably be left there for a while, at least until the spring season is over.“
Missourian reporters Cajsa Collin, Matt Harris, Evita Timmons and Emily Ristow contributed to this report.