For the second time in a week, Gov. Mike Parson flew over Northwest Missouri to assess flood damage. What he saw on Thursday was much worse.
“It’s pretty devastating out there,” Parson said in an exclusive interview with News-Press Now. “It’s a big change between what I saw last week and today.”
State of Emergency
Last night, Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers rescued several people from homes and three people from a stranded boat in and around Craig, Missouri, where a temporary levee failed. Ongoing sandbagging efforts continued Thursday at a water treatment plant in Forest City in Holt County. A Red Cross shelter in Mound City, Missouri, is currently housing 12 people forced from their homes by flooding.
“Now you’re seeing entire towns that are underwater out there, people being evacuated,” Parson said.
Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency Thursday in Missouri in response to worsening conditions along the Missouri and Mississippi River systems as a result of release from upstream reservoirs, snowmelt and excessive rainfall. Parson also activated the Missouri State Emergency Operations Plan, which allows state agencies to coordinate directly with local jurisdictions. He signed an executive order making the emergency declaration official. He said this prepares the state for federal assistance.
The governor said the first steps are ensuring everyone is safe, but once the waters recede residents will have to deal with the damage.
Dealing with unknowns
Parson, a farmer himself, knows the challenges of the flood doesn’t end once the water recedes. Farmers in the region will have to clear debris from their fields and prepare for a crop season.
“There’s just a lot of obstacles and a lot of unknowns right now,” Parson said.
One of the unknowns is northern snow that hasn’t yet melted in the Dakotas, which Parson said the state of Missouri is watching closely. He said it’s uncertain if the Missouri River will crest again, possibly at higher levels.
Starting a dialogue
U.S. Rep. Sam Graves — who assessed the damage from the sky with Parson — is critical of the Army Corps of Engineers management of the Missouri River, particularly the release of water from Gavins Point Dam.
In 2014, local attorney Dan Boulware began litigation against the U.S. government and Army Corps of Engineers, arguing in federal court that the flood of 2011 could have been avoided. In 2018, a federal judge ruled the government must compensate landowners and business owners for damage caused by the 2011 flood. Those damages were estimated to exceed $300 million.
Parson said he wants to begin a dialogue with the Corps to understand why the management of the river is at this point.
“I think there needs to be some real conversations with the Corps of Engineers to put property and safety of peoples at the forefront before other things,” Parson said.
The Missouri River is expected to hit 30.1 feet in St. Joseph on Friday afternoon, which would be the second-highest river level on record. Already, levees have overtopped or breached in southern Buchanan County, forcing the closing of Highway 59 between Rushville and Atchison, Kansas.
“I think there’s a long history with the state not really being happy with the Corps of Engineers and how they conduct this thing and how they’re doing these levees and how they’re using the waterways in our state,” Parson said. “It’s a concern and we need to have a good conversation about that.”