Hamburg waits and watches, as waters rise
June 14th, 2011
Omaha, NE – It was quiet and somber in Hamburg on Tuesday, as the city watches and waits to see if the rising Missouri waters reach their town.
â€œI believe by sometime tomorrow weâ€™ll see water on the levee, and weâ€™ll just see how the elevations come up,â€ said Colonel Bob Ruch, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers â€“ Omaha District, as he stood a few yards from a stretch of brand-new levee. Tractors lined up for about a mile behind him, pulling loads of clay and dumping them along the wall.
â€œThe quality of this levee and the material is excellent,â€ Ruch added. â€œItâ€™s obviously almost to the standard weâ€™d build a permanent levee to.â€
Ruch is working, with volunteers and private contractors, to keep the rising river away from the city of Hamburg, just a mile or so west. Two partial levee breaches along the river last week, and a full breach this week, just five miles west of Hamburg, have put the town in urgent jeopardy.
â€œWe donâ€™t know what weâ€™re going to do,â€ said Vicki Sjulin, the owner of the Blue Moon Bar and Grill, a family-owned local staple since 1972. The restaurant is open for business, in a town mostly filled with construction workers, along with residents keeping an eye on their boarded-up homes. The pub is surrounded by its own levee, walled up with sandbags.
â€œI think weâ€™re going to stay dry, whether we have water around us or not,â€ Sjulin said. â€œBut the real problem here is once thereâ€™s water all around our levee, we lose power, so weâ€™re still losing business.â€
Sjulin said her home is safe, far enough away from the water to stay dry. But, she said, she sees people coming into her pub every day, who may have nowhere to go.
â€œItâ€™s just a wait and see,â€ she said. â€œNo one knows how many levees north of us are going to breakâ€¦ no one knows. So we could be getting water from all directions, we donâ€™t know.â€
Even if the new levee does hold back the river, the fightâ€™s not over. It was built in a week, and though Ruch assured itâ€™s as sturdy as a levee can be, its strength will be tested against several weeks of high water.
â€œOnce you get the levee in, you continue to have a fight,â€ he said. â€œYou look for seepage. Weâ€™ll have patrols out here on the levee, looking for boils and things like that, and then weâ€™ll react to them. I mean, weâ€™re doing that along the entire Missouri basin right now.â€
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