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Army Corps says Des Moines levee remains stable despite seepage; no evacuations ordered

The Army Corps of Engineers characterized a leak in a vulnerable levee protecting a Des Moines neighborhood from a swollen river Friday as "seepage" and said the flood barrier remained stable.

Late Thursday, officials spotted a crack in the same part of the levee that gave way in 2008 and flooded the small working-class neighborhood of Birdland.

No evacuations have been ordered.

"The water has found a path through the rock layer from the wet side to the dry side. It looked like last night it took some material with it, but it looks like it has stabilized," said Tom Heinold, a Corps flood-risk management coordinator.

Heinold said his crews walked the levee early Friday but that they avoided the part near the leak to avoid further damage.

"We don't know how much material might be missing. I wouldn't want to walk right over that seepage area because the levee could slump down into it," he said, adding that there was no damage elsewhere on the levee.

The river had been forecast to crest at 26.7 at 7 a.m. Friday, nearly 4 feet above flood stage but less than the 31.6 feet when the levee two years ago.

At 7 a.m, the level was 25.9 feet.

Jacob Beitlich of the National Weather Service said the river appeared "to be very near the crest" but that the level could be fluctuating because of debris.

The water seeping through the levee is flowing into a lagoon. Heinold said as the level of the lagoon rose it would increase pressure on the barrier and slow the release of water through the crack.

"If the pressure were equalized, there'd be no flow," he said.

Des Moines Public Works Director Bill Stowe said even if the levee protecting the Birdland neighborhood should fail, he was optimistic the neighborhood would be protected by a secondary berm built behind the levee.

The neighborhood was inundated by floodwater when the levee broke in 2008, and residents have been anxiously hoping that the levee would be able to hold back the swollen Des Moines River this time around. The levee also failed in 1993.