updated 6/5/2011 2:33:21 PM ET 2011-06-05T18:33:21

Six hundred residents in southwest Iowa were ordered Sunday to evacuate their homes after the Missouri River breached a levee across the border in Missouri.

The evacuation covers nearly half of the town of Hamburg, said Stefanie Bond, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Residents, most of them on the south side of the city of 1,141, are being told to get out within 24 hours.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported a levee was breached Sunday morning south of Hamburg in Missouri's Atchison County. The corps' Col. Robert Ruch said crews had been working Saturday on another issue near the breach and all workers were evacuated. The corps declined to release further details.

Rhonda Wiley, emergency management director for Atchison County, Mo., said a "trickle" of water has been running through the levee south of the Iowa border since Saturday night.

Another nearby levee had a similar break Saturday, but Wiley said crews were able to repair it. She said levees along the Missouri River have been weakened by the river's recent high water levels.

"We anticipate these compromises rearing their ugly heads all up and down the levee system throughout this event," Wiley said Sunday. "It's not a pretty picture. But today nobody appears to be in imminent danger at this moment."

Bond described the water coming through the breach affecting Hamburg as being between the spray of a garden hose and a fire hose. She said officials were working on a repair plan and the evacuations were ordered in case repairs fail.

Mike Crecelius, emergency management coordinator for Fremont County, said no one really knows what's going to happen in Hamburg or where the incoming water will go.

"The situation down there is really unstable," he said.

Last week, Bond said Hamburg residents were told not to rely on the levee to protect the city. Fremont County officials requested 130,000 sandbags from the corps.

This year could be one of the wettest on record in the Missouri River basin, according to the corps. Officials are predicting record river flows and large releases from reservoirs in the Dakotas because of steady spring rain and above-normal snowpack. The corps has warned that the overflowing river isn't likely to crest until mid- to late June and water will remain high for weeks or even months.

The corps predicts the river will crest at 27 feet or higher in Nebraska City, Neb., which is across the river from Hamburg. Flood stage is 18 feet. As of Sunday afternoon, the river was at 23.14 feet at Nebraska City, according to the National Weather Service.

___

Associated Press Maria Fisher in Kansas City, Mo. contributed to this report. Ross reported from Omaha, Neb. She can be reached at http://twitter.com/timberlysross.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Disaster looms along the Missouri River

  1. Closed captioning of: Disaster looms along the Missouri River

    >>> in the upper midwest folks are dealing with the remnants of a tough wenter. the army corps of engineers are opening flood gates along the missouri river because of record rain and snowfall. it could mean severe flooding for thousands. nbc's miguel almaguer is watching the drama unfold in pierre, south dakota . he joins us with the latest from there. miguel ?

    >> reporter: lester, good evening. tonight with the missouri river swollen it's a battle for feet and in some communities a fight for inches. here along the river in north dakota , hundreds of homes sit along the water's edge. it may not be enough, these sandbags, to keep the water back. as the missouri river rises, so does the concern. for more than a week, many have tried to fortify their homes. but tonight thousands have been ordered to leave. mass evacuations across the upper midwest as the river threatens to topple levees and burst banks. in south dakota , eric nordstrom has lived along the river with his family for more than a decade. tonight he's ready to walk away.

    >> it's just a house. it's not a home anymore. it's just a house. we moved out about a week ago and went elsewhere.

    >> reporter: with the missouri river running nearly 2,400 miles long, seven midwest states are under a flood emergency. the massive flow of water controlled by six dams. every release adding more pressure to communities down river . but the reservoirs are nearly full. there's too much water to hold back. the army corps of engineers , blamed for waiting too long to release the excess flow.

    >> mother nature really put a significant event to us. there's no way you can really plan for a rainfall of that magnitude.

    >> reporter: with the river rising every day, 180 miles of the missouri is shut down. the water too dangerous to navigate. the national guard is being called in.

    >> what we're doing is securing the city infrastructure, building up levees where needed.

    >> reporter: but the river may not crest for weeks and evacuations could last months. for eric nordstrom, a slow motion disaster moving closer and closer to his home.

    >> we've shed our tears and said good-bye to the house. if there's nothing there when we come back, we'll just build somewhere else.

    >> reporter: tomorrow and tuesday will be critical days here along the missouri. the army corps of engineers say they'll increase the flow coming from local dams. it's a move they say they have to make. many people here along the river , lester, just hope the levees hold.

    >> miguel almaguer tonight, thank you.

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