More levees fail to hold back the surging Missouri River

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Several levees in northern Missouri failed Sunday to hold back the surge of water being released from upstream dams, and officials and residents braced themselves for more breaches as the Missouri River dipped but then rose again.

A hole in the side of a Holt County levee continued to grow, deluging the state park and recreational area in Big Lake, a community of less than 200 people 78 miles north of Kansas City. The water — some from recent rain — started pouring over levees Saturday night and Sunday morning in Holt and Atchison counties, flooding farmland, numerous homes and cabins.

In Nebraska, a flooding alert was issued for a second nuclear power plant, but officials said it was the least serious emergency notification issued and the public and workers are not threatened.

Jud Kneuvean, chief of emergency management for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Kansas City District, said the Missouri River dipped by almost 1 foot after the Big Lake breach in Missouri but started to rise again by Sunday afternoon.

Kneuvean said he thought the flooding in the area wouldn't start for another day or two but that the water level surged by about 2 feet from Saturday morning to Sunday morning. The corps suspects the culprit is an influx of rainwater that combined with a surge from a notch cut in the breached Hamburg, Iowa, levee to allow trapped water to flow back into the river.

He said Big Lake is seeking permission to cut a relief hole in an already damaged county levee to allow water trapped behind the levee to flow back into the river. The levee protects about 13,000 acres of farmland as well as the state park.

Presiding Holt County commissioner Mark Sitherwood said U.S. 159 was closed south of Big Lake because of water pouring over the road. Much of Big Lake's west side was underwater.

Most people left their homes well in advance of the flooding. Those who stayed were told Saturday night that water was flowing into the area.

In Atchison County, there was a nearly steady flow of water over a half-mile stretch of a levee near U.S. 136 and overtopping at various points north of that area, said Mark Manchester, deputy director of emergency management for the county. He said the river level in the county had reached 44.6 feet, the highest on record and about 4 to 5 inches higher than 1993 flooding levels.

The water was flooding several thousand acres of farmland, but so far no homes had been inundated since a breach last Monday caused about a dozen homes to take on water, Manchester said.

Because of the high waters, U.S. 136 was closing near the Missouri-Nebraska state line.

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, the flooding alert issued by the Nebraska Public Power District for the Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, didn't stop the plant from operating at full capacity Sunday. The Fort Calhoun Station, another nuclear plant along the Missouri River in eastern Nebraska, issued a similar alert June 6. That plant near Blair, Neb., has been shut down since April and will not be reactivated until the flooding subsides.