TOPEKA — Crews placed large sandbags near the community center in downtown Leavenworth on Thursday in advance of rising water along the Missouri River, hoping the temporary structure is enough to protect against the impending deluge from the north.
Leavenworth is expecting a crest along the river of between 27 and 33 feet. The river was at 20.6 feet Thursday, slightly above the 20-foot flood stage and holding steady.
Spokeswoman Sara Wright said the city was making preparations while the weather was still nice and water relatively low. One area of concern was a city park used frequently by campers during summer months.
"We haven't shut down the park yet, but we are looking at doing that early next week," Wright said.
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The city purchased 900 feet of the large bags at a cost of $25,000 months before the flooding was predicted. The larger bags replace the need for hundreds of smaller bags used in previous floods, said Mike McDonald, the city's public works director.
"If we can go 3 feet high, we can protect 90 percent of our infrastructure that we're concerned about," McDonald said.
Fewer small bags also means not needing the army of volunteers that helped fill bags in 1993 and floods since then.
Five of the highest river crests in Leavenworth, a city of 35,000 residents founded in 1854 near the fort with the same name, have occurred since 1993. Many of the same city staffers who responded 18 years ago remain on the job.
"We're working a lot smarter," McDonald said. "We kind of have an idea of what we're up against."
Kansas Division of Emergency Management officials are staffing their operations center 24 hours a day to monitor flooding caused by excessive rain and snowmelt along the Missouri's headwaters in Montana and the Dakotas.
State staffers have been meeting with local officials to go over final preparations as more water is released from upstream dams.
Deputy Director Angee Morgan said one of the concerns in Doniphan County near Elwood and Wathena was the potential for heavy rains over the coming weeks. The rising river has forced cities to close their flood gates that normally channel the water out of the low-lying communities.
Morgan said the advanced notice on rising waters had allowed state and local officials to prepare and mitigate potential damage.
"We've been watching it for probably the last 30 days. We always knew the snowmelt would impact us to a lesser extent," she said.
She said the state was still assessing damage from flooding in northeast and north-central Kansas on June 1-2, as well as the May 21 tornado in Reading that killed one person. Morgan said Kansas may be able to seek a declaration for all the affected counties because of the threat of additional storms and continuous flood warnings.
That is of particular help in Reading where, despite the devastation to homes and businesses, the losses may not be enough on their own to trigger federal support, she said.
"We feel a little more optimistic," Morgan said.