June 12, 2011 / 8:47 PM / 7 years ago

Midwesterners brace for new Missouri River flooding

MISSOURI VALLEY, Iowa (Reuters) - For flood-weary residents and sandbag crews in the Midwest, Sunday was largely a day of rest.

Or, was it just the calm before the storm?

To be sure, there were some efforts up and down the Missouri River on Sunday to protect towns, homes and rail lines against the arrival of floodwaters.

But for the most part, the situation was quiet in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

“Waiting. Just waiting,” said Terry Compton, who was working her shift at the local convenience store. She knows the water is coming. The only question was when.

Residents have been shoring up levees along the Missouri River from Montana through Missouri as federal officials widen flood gates to allow record, or near-record water releases to ease pressure on six major reservoirs swollen by heavy rains and melting snow.

Six dams between Fort Peck in Montana and Gavins Point on the South Dakota-Nebraska border were at peak releases or were expected to reach them within days, and dam operators plan to maintain them at least until mid-August.

On Sunday, releases at Fort Peck Dam were set to increase to 65,000 cubic feet per second, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The higher releases stemmed from in-flows at the dam well above previously forecast levels and the need to balance flood storage between Fort Peck and Garrison, the Corps said.

The Fort Peck releases were not expected to affect planned peak releases at the five other Missouri River dams, the agency said.

Predicted heavy rains failed to materialize overnight in Missouri Valley, so the streets were dry. The city’s public swimming pool, surrounded by sandbags, was open on Saturday.

Natalie Swanson, 13 of Lake Manawa, Iowa, keeps the empty bags coming for Eric Adamshick of Bellevue, Neb., on Saturday to protect against the rising Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa, June 11, 2011. REUTERS/Michael Avok

Downtown traffic was thin on Sunday, though Union Pacific Railroad personnel continued working to bolster rail beds with rock.

City employees who stopped for coffee seemed unwilling to discuss anything related to sandbags, water or river levels.

“You can come by tomorrow,” said one municipal worker who declined to give his name. “We’ll get our update then.”

Interstate 29 just north of Omaha remained shut down, and the closure could extend up to Missouri Valley next week. Transportation officials have already erected signs and barricade arms to halt traffic when the time comes.

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Officials say the dam releases from up north will bring a deluge by midweek.

Meanwhile, in Blair, Nebraska, just west of Missouri Valley, the river was showing signs of quickly expanding to the east. Farmland that had been dry just days ago was underwater.

A center pivot, a metal irrigation system that sprays crops with groundwater, was submerged itself in Blair. A white pickup truck was stranded and filled nearly to the top with water.

Some farmers had dug up planted crops, using the soil to build berms around homes and equipment sheds.

The McDonald’s restaurant in Missouri Valley has not opened its drive-through for days. The eatery is surrounded by sandbags and tractor tires.

In Council Bluffs, Iowa, volunteers filled a half-million sandbags on Saturday. And, across the river in Omaha, they bolstered the levees to protect a water treatment plant.

In Hamburg, Iowa, the Army Corps of Engineers worked “feverishly” to complete a secondary levee around the city by Wednesday, said Mike Crecelius, emergency management director in Fremont County.

He said the town expected to feel the effects of peak releases from Gavins Point by Friday, if current timings hold.

Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Steve Gorman

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