At least two dead, hundreds left homeless as Missouri River overtops, breaches levees

Rivers breached at least a dozen levees on Monday following heavy rain and snowmelt in several Midwestern states leaving hundreds stranded as flooding is expected to linger

By Heather Hollingsworth

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hundreds of homes have flooded in several Midwestern states after rivers breached at least a dozen levees following heavy rain and snowmelt in the region, authorities said Monday while warning that the flooding was expected to linger.

Many homes in a mostly rural area of Missouri's Holt County were inundated with 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) of water from the swollen Missouri River, said the county's emergency management director, Tom Bullock. He said his own home was now on an island surrounded by floodwater.

A BNSF train sits in flood waters from the Platte River, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019 (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

One couple was rescued in a helicopter after water from three breached levees swept across 40,000 acres, he said. Another nine breaches have been confirmed in Nebraska and Iowa counties south of the Platte River, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"The levees are busted and we aren't even into the wet season when the rivers run high," Bullock said, noting that local farmers are only a month away from planting corn and soybeans. "The water isn't going to be gone, and the levees aren't going to be fixed this year."

Floodwaters surround buildings on the southwest side of Hamburg, Iowa, Sunday, March 17, 2019 (AP)

In nearby Atchison County, about 130 people were urged to leave their homes as water levels rose and strained levees, three of which had already been overtopped by water. Missouri State Highway Patrol crews were on standby to rescue anyone who insisted on staying despite the danger.

"The next four to five days are going to be pretty rough," said Rhonda Wiley, Atchison County's emergency management and 911 director.

The Elkhorn River consumes a section of western Douglas County Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Omaha, Neb (Jeff Bundy/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

The Missouri River has already crested upstream of Omaha, Nebraska, though hundreds of people remained out of their homes.

In southwest Iowa, the Missouri River reached a level in Fremont County that was 2 feet (0.6 meter) above a record set in 2011. People in the small towns of Bartlett and Thurman were being evacuated as levees were breached and overtopped.

Gabe Schmidt, owner of Liquid Trucking, back right, travels by air boat with Glenn Wyles, top left, Mitch Snyder, bottom right, and Juan Jacobo, bottom left, as they survey damage from the flood waters of the Platte River, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019 (AP)

"This wasn't a gradual rise," Mike Crecelius, Fremont County emergency management director, said Sunday. "It's flowing fast and it's open country — there's nothing there to slow it down."

The National Weather Service said the river was expected to crest Thursday in St. Joseph, Missouri, at its third highest level on record. Military C-130 planes were evacuated last week from nearby Rosecrans Air National Guard base.

The city of Valley is inundated with floodwaters Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Valley, Neb. (AP)

The flooding started after a massive late-winter storm hit the Midwest last week. At least two deaths were blamed on flooding, and two other men have been missing for days.

The Missouri Department of Transportation reports about 100 flood-related road closures, including a stretch of Interstate 29.

Anthony Thomson, left, and Melody Walton make their way out of a flooded neighborhood Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Fremont, Neb. (AP)

Jud Kneuvean, the emergency manger with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers' Kansas City district, blamed a combination of higher temperature, rainfall and snowmelt "converging all at the same time."

No significant flooding was expected east of Kansas City, though Kneuvean said the Corps was watching weather forecasts closely.

"When you have a high river and have any forecast of rain on it, it can change the scenario very quickly," Kneuvean said.