June 15, 2011 in Nation/World

Crews race clock to build up levee

Grant Schulte Associated Press
 

HAMBURG, Iowa – Dozens of workers raced Tuesday to add several feet to a levee that now stands as the lone barrier between Hamburg and the floodwaters of the Missouri River that threaten to fill the small town like a bathtub.

Crews working for the Army Corps of Engineers hoped to pile at least three feet of extra dirt atop the temporary levee. But time was short and the stakes were high: If the levee were to fail, parts of this southwestern Iowa community could be covered by as much as 10 feet of water within days. And the high water could linger for months.

The construction work stirred up a cloud of dust as teams hurried to complete the improvements by this evening. The earthen levee became Hamburg’s last line of defense after the river punched through another levee downstream in northwest Missouri that provided the town’s primary protection.

That failure left water gushing through a large gap on a path to inundate the town of 1,100 – unless the other levee can be made taller.

“I feel good about it,” Fire Chief Dan Sturm said. “But we can’t guarantee anything. We’ve never really had to cope with anything of this magnitude.”

Even though the levee breach was downstream, the floodwaters were flowing north to fill the area around Hamburg because the town sits in a valley. The fire chief compared the geography to a slowly filling bathtub.

The water was initially expected to arrive in Hamburg on Tuesday, but the corps later said the flooding would not reach the new levee until sometime today, giving workers an extra day to finish the job.

Corps leaders expected the effort to add three more feet to the levee to be complete by midday today.

“You can see the water coming,” said Col. Bob Ruch, commander of the corps’ Omaha district.

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