ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The supply of sand used to fill hundreds of thousands of bags needed to fight off the swollen Missouri River is running low after weeks of relentless flooding. It’s a problem that could get worse as the river is expected to remain high through August, making it unsafe to gather sand from the easiest place to get it: the river itself.
The sand shortage comes as the bloated river rose to within 18 inches of forcing the shutdown of Cooper Nuclear Plant at Brownville, Neb. It stopped and ebbed slightly Monday, a reprieve caused by levee breaches in northwest Missouri.
Flooding is a concern all along the river because of the massive amounts of water that the Army Corps of Engineers has released from six dams. Any significant rain could worsen the flooding, especially if it falls in Nebraska, Iowa or Missouri, which are downstream of the dams.
During the next few days, the river is expected to rise even further. It could stay above flood stage into August.
The Army Corps of Engineers is monitoring the sand supply, said Jud Kneuvean, chief of emergency management for the corps’ Kansas City District. He said a ton of sand produces about 60 sandbags. Sand also is piled along weakened areas of levees to prevent seepage.
“You need lots of sand, lots of sand,” Kneuvean said.
In a pinch, other materials can be used, such as gravel and lime products.
“Unfortunately, though, when some of those get wet they harden up and it decreases the flexibility of sand bags and it basically forms concrete,” Kneuvean said.
The local supply of sand quickly ran out after flooding began in St. Joseph, and the river was moving too swiftly to allow for dredging. The county had to ship in sand from Topeka, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo.
Nearly 300 residents of Craig, Mo., were being ordered to evacuate. Officials said one levee was overtopped and a breach opened in the Big Tarkio River levee near its mouth at the Missouri.
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