Missouri River on the rise

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June 1st, 2011

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Omaha, Ne – For the dozens of bystanders crowding the walkways of the Omaha Riverfront Wednesday afternoon, it was almost hard to believe. The Missouri River is rising; and for now, it’s not stopping.

Several flood gates stood as makeshift barriers against the ever-extending waterline, and sandbags acted as a line of defense against the first wave of flooding. The Monument to Labor sculpture stood as one of the first casualties of the flooding, as it remained partially submerged late Wednesday.

On Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that water levels on the Missouri River are close to record highs, and will continue to rise between now and the middle of June. Some Nebraska and Iowa homeowners in low-lying areas near the Missouri River have already started evacuating because water is
nearing their homes.

The Missouri River has hit flood stage near Omaha, and is expected to continue to rise through mid-June. (Photo courtesy of Patsy Lynch/FEMA)

Paul Johnson, Director of the Douglas County Emergency Management Agency, said “We’ve been briefed on the fact that the water levels have been so high up in the northern states through heavy snowfalls this past winter that the dams are full.” Johnson added, “They’ve had to release water or suffer physical damage to the dams. That’s what’s causing the problem.”

NP Dodge Park was closed last Thursday as a result of the flooding, and currently Omaha Parks and Recreations officials are working to evacuate boats from the marina located there. The high water level also caused the early closing of the Omaha Heritage Festival activities that were taking place on the Lewis and Clark Landing over the holiday weekend. However, Johnson said that areas on the east side of the river, including Council Bluffs, may see the worst of the flooding.

“Thus far, the main impact to the business community is really on the east side of the river on the Council Bluffs side, directly across from Douglas County,” said Johnson. “So Pottawattamie County, they’ve already had some impact, and they’re going to have a lot more.”

Colonel Bob Ruch, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District, said the system of dams built along the Missouri years ago can mitigate the damage, but the threat from flooding is still high.

“There is no reason for loss of life in this event because we know it’s coming,” he said. “We’re working with local officials, and if your local officials tell you to evacuate: get out.”

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle has also met with the U.S. Army Corps. According to Suttle’s Communications Director Aida Amoura, the mayor is monitoring the situation closely – including making sure that the right precautions are taken to keep residents near the riverfront safe.

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