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Flooding Along The Missouri River Subsides For The Time Being


The flood crest on the Missouri River has reached its highest point in the state of Missouri. It is moving towards the Mississippi River. For some communities in the Midwest, the worst of the flooding is over, at least for now. But as Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, the enormous Missouri river system is primed to flood again in coming weeks.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: On a rough road near western Missouri, Bob Baker stops as close as he can to the land his family's been farming for generations.

BOB BAKER: My farmstead is way off to the west there. You can see there's a wide tobacco barn, a couple machine sheds with the door open.

MORRIS: A tobacco barn, a couple machine sheds, a house and grain bins all sunk a mile from shore in a vast, muddy lake of floodwater. Baker's seen lots of floods, but only one deeper quarter-century ago and none more foreboding.

BAKER: This is just a prelude of what's to come. Have a flood this early - I can only remember one other flood in early spring like this. And I think we're in for a long summer.

MORRIS: It's the same feeling even where the levees held a few miles downriver in Farley, Mo.

JOE ATTEMA: The river's crested, and it's dropping. And so the threat of a rise has passed, but the river is still high. And so we need to keep our eyes peeled.

MORRIS: Joe Attema and a few other farmers are filling sandbags and stockpiling them on pallets. Even though the Missouri River is at bay here, they fear that catastrophe is only one big rain storm away.

ATTEMA: Because with the river high, the floodgates are all shut. And so there's nowhere for the water to go.

MORRIS: And this precarious situation is top of mind a couple of dozen miles further downstream in Kansas City in a large room with high ceilings and no windows.

JUD KNEUVEAN: This is a Kansas City District Corps of Engineers emergency operations center.

MORRIS: Jud Kneuvean is chief of emergency management here, and he's facing enormous maps projected on the wall showing color-coded trouble spots along 500 miles of Missouri River.

KNEUVEAN: What you're currently looking at at the board there is the picture of our fight. Everything that's in purple up there represents a nonfederal levee that has been both overtopped and/or breached.

MORRIS: Kneuvean says the corps had predicted a higher than average chance of flooding this year.

KNEUVEAN: Unfortunately, we just didn't expect it so early in March. Generally, big events for us occur through the May, June and early July periods.

MORRIS: When the big thunderstorms hit. Kneuvean says the corps will start triaging shattered levees along the river as soon as possible so that the gaps exposing the greatest number of people to further flooding can be fixed. But he says it'll take weeks of drying to even begin to assess the damage.

Meantime, Kevin Lowe with the National Weather Service's Missouri Basin River Forecast Center says streams running into the Missouri are high. Couple of big ones are flooding in South Dakota. He says the snowpack was heavy. What's more, soil across the upper Midwest is too wet to absorb much more water. Oh, yeah, and forecasters are predicting a better-than-average chance of major thunderstorms this spring.

KEVIN LOWE: And so you might say that we've got all the boxes checked. So now we just have to wait for the rain to come.

MORRIS: And people living and working near the Missouri River will be watching the weather and worrying about their property for months to come. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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