This is what Hamburg, Iowa residents have feared for the past three weeks.
The flood-choked Missouri River has torn through a levee a five miles west of this Iowa town, ripping a hole as wide as a football field.
Through that gaping levee, millions of gallons of floodwater are now spreading east across the croplands and farm homes that lead to Hamburg.
Click on the photo below to see current photos of Hamburg and hear my interview with Hamburg Fire Chief Dan Sturn.
Hamburg Fire Chief Dan Sturn told me “It’s just waiting and praying and hoping it doesn’t get any worse than what they forecast.”
Roughly 300 of the town’s 1,200 residents have been evacuated. More could soon follow.
Businesses in Hamburg’s downtown district are surrounded by sandbags or huge piles of plastic covered dirt barriers.
A few days ago, I mentioned (See: The Missouri River roars and humbles ) that a secondary levee a quarter mile west of downtown Hamburg was being piled high with an extra five feet of soil as a last ditch stop-gap should the main levee gave way. Now, the Missouri River has punched through the main levee as more than a million gallons of water a second race downstream.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have piled another three feet of soil on the secondary levee- it measures about a mile from north to south on Hamburg’s outskirts. “We already have substantial flood-risk reduction measures in place, and we are working expeditiously with the National Guard to add an extra barrier to protect the town,” said Col. Ruch, commander of the Omaha District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
If the secondary levee fails, Chief Sturn says eight to ten feet of flood water could come rushing into downtown Hamburg. “This is the last line of defense for us right now. That secondary levee has to hold,” said Sturn.
The Missouri River, propelled by heavy spring rains and an above average winter snow pack that’s begun melting in the mountains of Montana and Wyoming, has washed over its banks in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. Along the way, the river is swallowing crops and roads, homes and businesses.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releasing 150,000 cubic feet of water a second from the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota, a record that more than doubles the previous high release.
Because the upstream Missouri River dams are filled to capacity, the historic floodwater flows, say officials, may last into mid-August.
The Omaha World-Herald quoted Iowa Transportation Department officials Tuesday who said the Hamburg area levee breach will probably close a roughly 20-mile stretch of Interstate 29 within the next two days as floodwater flows south and east.
Once that happens, stretches of I-29 will be cut off to Omaha metro-area drivers traveling north or south. Portions of I-29 are already closed north of Council Bluffs.
The Interstate would close from the Iowa Highway 2 interchange to an exit 23 miles south near Rock Port, Mo., officials said. Click here for the latest on road conditions near Hamburg, Iowa.
Reuters reports the Missouri River flooding has also displaced thousands of South Dakota and North Dakota residents. Authorities warned on Tuesday that residents in some small communities near Bismarck, North Dakota, should leave before road access is cut off.