HAMBURG, Iowa – The swollen Missouri River ruptured two levees in northwest Missouri on Monday, sending torrents of floodwater over rural farmland toward a small town in Iowa and a resort community in Missouri.
Water rushing from a nearly 300-foot-wide hole in a levee near Hamburg was expected to continue widening the breach and reach the top of a secondary levee protecting the southwest Iowa town by Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers said. If the secondary wall fails, parts of Hamburg could be under as much as 10 feet of standing water.
Crews were working to add another 3 feet to the levee, said Col. Bob Ruch, the corps' Omaha District commander.
"For right now, we believe we'll be able to get that elevation raised in the time available as that water flows across in the next 48 hours," Ruch said Monday evening. "We've had excellent working conditions."
Terry Holliman, who owns an auto parts store in the town of about 1,100 residents, said water was shooting into farmland near one of three spots where the levee had previously leaked.
"It's impressive," Holliman said early Monday. "The force is unbelievable."
Officials originally estimated the levee had a 50-foot hole, but it had grown to nearly 300 feet by Monday evening and was continuing to widen.
Across the border in Missouri, the river punched a 225-foot-wide hole through a levee about 45 miles downriver near Big Lake in Holt County. The roughly 30 residents who stayed in the resort town after the river started rising were told to leave Monday.
The Army Corps of Engineers has steadily increased the amount of water it is releasing from dams along the Missouri River to account for excess water from heavy spring rains in the Upper Plains and to clear out space for above-average snowmelt coming down from the Rockies. Releases from the Missouri's five lower dams should reach 150,000 cubic feet of water per second Tuesday — more than twice the previous record releases.
The rising Missouri River has already flooded several areas in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, and officials predict the problems will linger through the summer.
National Weather Service hydrologist Dave Pearson described the breach near Hamburg as "pretty substantial." He said water was "flowing through quickly" but still must cross several miles of rural land to reach the Hamburg area.
It wasn't immediately clear how deep the floodwaters approaching Hamburg were on Monday or whether they would prove too much for the secondary levee built last week to protect the town. Local officials posted video of the breach that showed the water spreading over a large area of farmland.
About 300 Hamburg residents left their homes and businesses last week under an evacuation order after partial breaches in the main levee, which is located about 5 miles south in rural Atchison County, Mo.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been building up the secondary levee to protect low-lying areas of Hamburg since the partial breaches. Officials had been able to stabilize the initial leaks but had predicted the main levee eventually would fail. And it did Monday.
Corps projections show that if the secondary levee fails, the volume of water released upstream during a levee break could leave 8 to 10 feet of standing water in the southern part of Hamburg. The area includes manufacturing and agricultural businesses. Water could reach the fire station and city hall, but it likely wouldn't reach the northern part of town where most residents live.
Some residents in the flood-threatened neighborhoods were hauling the last of their belongings out of their nearly empty houses Monday, including longtime resident Pat Stoop. The last time her home flooded, in 1993, the water barely crept over the floor but it stayed for weeks. When she returned, her ceiling fan was covered in 3 inches of mold.
Thanks to the latest flood threats, she's considering a permanent move from the home where she's lived for more than four decades. Stoop said she was "thinking about 40 different things at once ... You start to do something, and then another thing, and before you know it you have 40 balls in the air. And you keep dropping them."
In Missouri, Holt County officials said the levee breach occurred about 5 miles northwest of Big Lake. Most of the town's roughly 150 residents left town before Monday and Big Lake State Park was already closed.
That breach also was pushing water into agricultural land, though a private levee that farmers built last year is helping slow the advancing flood, Holt County Clerk Kathy Kunkel said. However, officials expect the private levee to eventually fail because of the large amount of water.
Iowa officials said they would close more than 20 miles of Interstate 29 in southwest Iowa and northwest Missouri by Thursday. Northbound lanes near Hamburg will be lined with about 7,500 feet of flood barriers, Ruch said.
The record dam releases are expected to bring the Missouri River 5 to 7 feet above flood stage in most of Nebraska and Iowa before continuing into Missouri, where it may rise 10 feet above flood stage in several places and flow over the top of at least 11 rural levees. This summer's Missouri River flooding could rival the record years of 1952 and 1993 in some places.
The river is expected to remain high at least into August because as the record releases from the dams continue.
Funk contributed to the story from Omaha, Neb., and Maria Fisher contributed from Kansas City, Mo.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District: http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District: http://www.nwk.usace.army.mil
National Weather Service river forecast: http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/index.php?wfo=oax