- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2011

OMAHA, Neb. — Six hundred residents in southwest Iowa were ordered to evacuate their homes Sunday 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. 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, 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 Ms. 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,” Ms. Wiley said Sunday. “It’s not a pretty picture, but today nobody appears to be in imminent danger at this moment.”

Ms. 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, Ms. 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.

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