NBC News and news services
updated 5/8/2007 12:45:25 PM ET 2007-05-08T16:45:25

Heavy rain from an already deadly storm system sent the Missouri River and other Midwest waterways over their banks Tuesday, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and bringing warnings that the region could see flooding close to the devastation of 1993.

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt declared a state of emergency and mobilized National Guard troops to help, hours before state emergency operations officials reported that thd Missouri River had crested at 25 feet and floodwaters were beginning to recede.

About 60 percent of Mosby, 20 miles northeast of Kansas City, was covered by water 2 to 4 feet deep from the overflowing Fishing River, said D.C. Rogers, Clay County director of emergency services. He said the town’s 242 residents began evacuating Monday morning. By evening, only one route into the community remained open.

Mosby’s flooding could have been worse, but authorities managed to plug a damaged dam with sandbags, Rogers said. The private earthen dam holds back a 20-acre lake. If that dam were breached, its water would flow into Clear Creek, which runs into the Fishing River and through Mosby.

“Last word I got is it’s holding,” Rogers said. “Hopefully, the waters will recede, and that guy can fix his dam.”

“It hasn’t gotten this much water since 1993,” he said.

Communities across the central Plains faced flooding from the weekend-long thunderstorms that spawned the deadly tornado that wiped out Greensburg, Kan.

Parts of three states soaked
Parts of Missouri, Iowa and Kansas received 4 to 8 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, the National Weather Service said. In some areas, Tuesday morning was the first time in several days that rain wasn’t falling, but runoff was still raising streams and rivers.

Flooding in Oklahoma was blamed for the drowning death of a man whose car was swept off a county road. A Kansas man died when his vehicle overturned in a water-filled ditch near Wichita, Butler County officials said.

Jeff Cooper  /  Salina Journal
Floodwaters surround a farmstead near New Cambria, Kan. on Monday. Parts of Kansas, Missouri and Iowa got from 4 to 8 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, the National Weather Service said.
Nearly 1,600 people were urged to evacuate the southwest Iowa town of Red Oak on Monday as the Nishnabotna River rose out of its banks.

Levees broke near Willow Creek in the western Iowa town of Missouri Valley, and some residents had to evacuated by boat Monday, said Mayor Randy McHugh. “Appliances are just floating around,” he said Monday.

Authorities rescued about 500 people Monday around Topeka, Kan., said Dave Bevans, a spokesman for Shawnee County emergency operations. Officials reported similar evacuations in Saline County, about 100 miles to the west, and flooding forced the evacuation of New Cambria, a town of about 150 people northeast of Salina.

Since 1993, only two or three other flooding episodes have been comparable to what forecasters are predicting in the next several days, weather service meteorologist Andy Bailey said.

‘This is a major flood’
There will be differences though. The 1993 flood, one of the most costly and devastating in U.S. history, was caused by melting snow combined with heavy rain over a two-month period. After that, state buyouts of property on flood plains left fewer residences in danger of future floods.

“But make no mistake,” Bailey added, “this is a major flood.”

Missouri officials set up emergency shelters in St. Joseph and Mound City, and evacuations — most of them voluntary — were under way in towns along the Missouri River between Kansas City and the Iowa state line, said Susie Stonner, a spokeswoman for the State Emergency Management Agency.

More flooding was expected Tuesday, including the western Missouri town of Agency, where the Platte River was forecast to reach 15 feet above flood stage — less than a foot below its crest in 1993.

“At that stage, we expect the entire town of Agency to be flooded,” Bailey said.

As a precaution, Kansas City Power & Light Co. temporarily ceased operation Monday of its coal-fired plant near Weston as the nearby Missouri River approached flood level.

“There’s been no damage to any of our facilities, but based on what we are seeing of the rising river levels, we thought that was the prudent step to safeguard resources and equipment,” said utility spokesman Matthew Tidwell.

NBC's Tom Costello and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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