Video: Surging water has Missouri River on the rise

  1. Transcript of: Surging water has Missouri River on the rise

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: In the upper Plain states tonight it's the opposite problem, water and way too much of it. Six reservoirs along the Missouri River are full, and there's more to come from record levels of this snowpack that is now melting. Now they're releasing some of the water, and seven different states are on a flood watch as a result. NBC 's Miguel Almaguer is at a crucial dam in South Dakota . That an incredible sight behind you tonight, Miguel .

    MIGUEL ALMAGUER reporting: Brian , it certainly is. And the massive flow behind me is the reason why so much of the Missouri could flood. Some 750,000 gallons are pouring out behind me every second. There's too much water to hold back at the reservoir above. And although the rainbow behind me is beautiful, tonight there is danger downriver. Surging, and still weeks from its crest, the Missouri River is threatening to topple levees and break banks. In Nebraska , high water has forced this nuclear power plant to declare a low-level emergency. Meantime, in the Dakotas , 20,000 people have been asked to evacuate. Steve Kokish has lived along the river for 33 years.

    Mr. STEVE KOKISH: It's hard to take at my age. I'm 78, and I can't fight it anymore.

    ALMAGUER: In Missouri and Iowa , levee failures threaten to flood hundreds of homes and have driven more than a thousand to higher ground. The Hollicheck family is on the move.

    Ms. LAURA HOLLICHECK (Flood Evacuee): Trying to not get grouchy. It's not been fun.

    ALMAGUER: With 4,000 members of the National Guard flanked across the Missouri River , manpower and air support strengthen levees where they're weak. Half a million sandbags are laid every day; holding back the river , a monumental task. The Missouri is nearly 2400 miles long. Seven states in its path are in a flood emergency. The river flow controlled by six dams. Today's record release will be followed by yet another tomorrow.

    Mr. MIKE ROUNDS: Even the...

    ALMAGUER: Former South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds could lose his home. He blames the Army Corps of Engineers for waiting.

    Mr. ROUNDS: I think their system has to be looked at. We know right now that this should not have happened. I don't want to see it happen again.

    ALMAGUER: But the Corps says there was no way to predict there would be so much water; of little comfort to evacuees told to leave for at least two months. Gaining power, tonight the Missouri is on the move and on the rise. As for that nuclear power plant in Nebraska , authorities say there has been no radioactivity leak and they insist it is safe. Back here at that water dam release tomorrow, it certainly will swell the river again. The question tonight, Brian , will the levees hold?

    WILLIAMS: Such violent water, such a beautiful rainbow there behind you. Miguel , thanks.

msnbc.com news services
updated 6/6/2011 6:48:06 PM ET 2011-06-06T22:48:06

Sandbags weighing 1,000 pounds each and dumped by helicopter have delayed the full breach of a Missouri River levee, providing some time to build a secondary wall to protect the town of  Hamburg, the Army Corps of Engineers said Monday.

The Iowa National Guard dropped 22 huge sandbags "to help fill that breach, but that is just going to delay the full breach," said corps spokeswoman Monique Farmer.

It will take about a week to raise a secondary flood protection for Hamburg by five feet to reduce the risk for the town from the full breach, Farmer said.

The earthen levee, which guards an area of farmland and small towns between Omaha, Neb., and Kansas City, was partially breached over the weekend in at least two places south of Iowa's border with Missouri.

"We anticipate these compromises rearing their ugly heads all up and down the levee system throughout this event," Rhonda Wiley, the emergency management director for Missouri's Atchison County, said Sunday. "It's not a pretty picture."

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The corps has predicted record flows along the Missouri River and large releases from several upstream reservoirs because of steady spring rain and runoff from record snowpack.

The corps reported the first partial breach in the levee in Atchison County — a hole 1 inch to 1½ inches in diameter — on Sunday. Atchison County officials said the first break did not constitute a full breach because of its size, and called it instead, a "compromise."

Authorities ordered 600 residents of Hamburg, Iowa — nearly half the town — to evacuate their homes on Sunday after the first breach was discovered. The residents were told to get out within 24 hours.

"People's safety is our number one concern, so we want to stress how important it is for the public to stay off of these levees as we continue to assess the risk," said the corps' Omaha District Commander Col. Bob Ruch.

Story: Disastrous spring costing Mo. billions of dollars

"We acknowledge the frustrations of the affected communities, and we are committed to working together to avoid the loss of life and minimize damages," said Ruch.

He said the corps has been working to raise the levee near Hamburg an additional five feet to help protect the town.

Officials are also concerned about a section of a levee near Brownville, Neb., and crews are trying to determine the extent of possible damage there, the corps said Monday.

Video: Disaster looms along the Missouri River (on this page)

In South Dakota, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of a backup levee Sunday to protect the town of Dakota Dunes. Corps engineer LeeJay Templeton said the 1.4-mile long secondary levee is slated to be completed by Thursday.

The Missouri River was expected to rise about 8 feet to 1,098 feet above sea level by June 14 in the town of about 2,500 people, some of whom have evacuated ahead of the planned crest. Officials said construction of the primary levee is still under way to protect the town 2 feet beyond the projected high level.

PhotoBlog: View, discuss weather photos

Pressure on the earthen berms upriver in Pierre and Fort Pierre, S.D. — and the anxiety of area residents — will continue to increase through Tuesday, when the water being released at a dam just above the two towns reaches its peak of 150,000 cubic feet per second, nearly double the 85,000 cubic feet per second being released last week.

On Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the dam was dumping 130,000 cubic feet of water per second into the Missouri, whose waters have already risen more than a foot over the past week.

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Officials in South Dakota have not yet ordered mandatory evacuations in the state. But as many as 3,000 Pierre and Fort Pierre residents, and more than 800 of the 1,100 homes over 250 miles away in Dakota Dunes, are threatened.

So far, the releases from the Oahe Dam have raised water levels along the Missouri in the state more than a foot.

"All the levees are holding at this hour," said Nathan Sanderson, spokesman for the Southeast Incident Management Team, which is warily watching the creeping floodwaters in Dakota Dunes in the extreme southeastern part of the state.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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