CORRECTS MONTH TO MARCH NOT MAY - Anthony Thomson, left, and Melody Walton make their way out of a flooded neighborhood Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Fremont, Neb. Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes in Nebraska and Iowa as levees succumbed to the rush of water. (Kent Sievers/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

Homes flood as Missouri River overtops, breaches levees

March 18, 2019 - 11:39 am

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.

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."

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 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.

"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 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.

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.

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Associated Press reporter Jim Salter contributed to this report from St. Louis.

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