Some glimmers of hope along the flooded Missouri River

Sat Jul 9, 2011 5:33pm EDT

An aerial view of a farm north of Council Bluffs, Iowa, submerged in Missouri River flood waters June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom

An aerial view of a farm north of Council Bluffs, Iowa, submerged in Missouri River flood waters June 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Lane Hickenbottom

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Michael Avok

OMAHA, Neb (Reuters) - Finally, a bright spot in a soggy summer for communities along the unruly and swollen Missouri River.

"I can see where the water is down six to eight inches," Nancy Thomsen, a flower shop owner in downtown Pierre, South Dakota said from her shop on Missouri Avenue. "So that's getting better."

Thomsen was looking at the water level from the back of Pierre Flower Shop, a state capital staple for 60 years.

The river is usually about two blocks from the shop, but a levee protecting downtown from the swollen Missouri River comes "right up to our back door," Thomsen said.

That drop in water levels near town combined with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to decrease water releases from Oahe Dam four miles upstream has buoyed spirits in Pierre and Fort Pierre, across the Missouri River to the west.

"The feel of the community is a little more positive than it was," said Thomsen, whose husband Wally is a former Pierre City Councilman.

"People have come together and helped each other. There is a positive feel here."

Griffin Park and Steamboat Park along the river remain mostly under water, and a causeway that connected the city to scenic LaFramboise Island Nature Center with its deer and other wildlife also is under water. It is assumed that the road is likely washed out completely under the swirling water.

Even though there is no water downtown, signs outside businesses have messages such as "No Wake Zone" and "No Skinny Dipping."

Still, there are signs of normalcy.

On May 27, when flooding appeared imminent, every moving truck in town was rented to move possessions to higher ground. Now some residents are looking to return home.

"We have an employee who moved back to her home, but she didn't have (floodwater in the house)," Thomsen said. "As far as people who had water (in their homes) moving back in, that's very, very rare.

"People are just not willing to risk the mold issues."

The Corps plans to reduce releases from Oahe Dam to 145,000 cubic feet per second next week. The largest releases will continue downstream at Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota, at 160,000 cubic feet per second.

Cleanup is already on the minds of many in Pierre, but Mayor Laurie Gill urged caution, telling residents last week to wait at least a month before moving back.

Longtime resident Thomsen agreed.

"We had the last big flood in 1952. The river was up and gone in a week," Thomsen said. "What we are dealing with now is months instead of a week."

Residents' first concerns are that the levees hold, and then how long will it take for the water to recede, she said.

"We're going to see it through," Thomsen said. "We are resilient people. Sure we are tired of it, but what can you do."

(Editing by David Bailey and Greg McCune)

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