No. 1: Flood swallows communities

Looking south toward Highway 118 and Big Lake, Mo., few dry patches are visible in the Missouri River valley in this June photo.

By the time spring 2011 rolled around, there was little that could be done to stop what would be the massive flood of 2011 that cost land, money, communities and an officer’s life.

In March 2011, Holt County Clerk Kathy Kunkel sat in the lobby of the State Theater in Mound City as part of a benefit to help families hit hard by the 2010 flood. She mentioned they were also hearing rumors of another storm on the way.

“We’re getting back into shape right now,” she said a month later. “It’s just wait, watch and react.”

Meanwhile, already above-normal precipitation in the Upper Missouri River Basin continued to grow at an unexpected rate. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers described it as the catalyst of the flood.

Flash forward to December, and Ms. Kunkel’s office is covered in maps, with labels highlighting levees, breaches and millions of dollars in damage that has occurred to the county. Reflecting back on the early interview, it was viewed as a fairly innocent approach to the violent flood.

“There was definitely strong concern that we were looking at another potential flood, even that early. But we had no idea it would be on the scale that it came,” she said.

Interrupting the summer

Causing an estimated $630 million in damage to levees, dams and channels throughout Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri, the record-setting Missouri River flood took with it roads, highways, communities and businesses, with residual damage still being determined.

The three months of flooding devastated normally busy summer vacation areas such as Big Lake. That village, along with other areas in Northwest Missouri, was forced to evacuate after levees were breached in June. In St. Joseph, the St. Jo Frontier Casino was shut down for about three months, and the Heritage Park softball fields were flooded.

As the waters tore through homes and land, they eventually reached roads, causing about 20 trafficways, including major highways such as Interstate 29 north of Rock Port, U.S. 136 in Atchison County and U.S. 59 in Buchanan County, to close, and cutting off or lengthening interstate commutes. In some areas where workers normally trekked across states every day to get to their jobs, companies had to find temporary housing for workers.

With a lack of traffic, tourist and trucker-driven businesses in Holt and Atchison County felt the financial squeeze. During the summer, the Squaw Creek Eagle’s Nest Truck Stop, off Interstate 29 in Mound City, normally would have been packed with customers. In July, the lack of business closed it permanently.

“The flood basically shut the place down for us,” Tim Rhodd, chairman of the executive committee for the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, which owned the truck stop, said.

Ms. Kunkel reported that Holt County, which is still tallying final sales tax revenue numbers, saw its general revenue dip 20 percent below the $1.6 million budgeted for it in the summer. By year’s end, she said it likely would be about five percent, or about $80,000, under the expected total.

Losing a trooper

With early warnings of flooding, a sense of thankfulness that almost all lives were spared seems to be the silver lining in this story. Tragically, it wasn’t completely the case. Trooper Fred Guthrie of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and his K-9, Reed, were swept away by floodwaters Aug. 1 as they were patrolling the area at Missouri Highways 118 and 111 in Holt County.

Reed’s body was found a day later, while troopers continue to search for Mr. Guthrie. A memorial service, where hundreds of state officials and officers gathered to pay tribute, was held for Mr. Guthrie on Dec. 14.

“He was really just a fun guy to be around and just had a great, great personality,” Sgt. Sheldon Lyon of the Highway Patrol’s Troop H said.

Mr. Guthrie previously had received a Medal of Valor in 2007 for rescuing a woman in distress in Smithville, Mo., after she had been thrown from a boat without a life jacket.

Looking to the future

As the floodwaters receded and roads were restored, the result of the flood seems mixed. In November, the Corps of Engineers announced it will change the way it will manage the Missouri River, including more flexibility evaluating how much water to release during the fall and winter — a point of criticism from residents and officials.

Despite that, controversy continued to stir as an expert panel stated in a 99-page report that the corps was not to blame for the flooding.

“I continue to want to have an argument with that,” Ms. Kunkel said. “I feel somewhat validated by the remainder of the study, which said the situation they were in in May didn’t allow them any flexibility. The study is clear that they need more storage for flood control.”

With the Corps of Engineers eyeing land in Holt County to purchase — effectively taking it off the tax rolls and turning it into wetlands or the back side of a levee — the county wants to continue the conversation to prevent another devastating flood and stop its land from being purchased and then made ineffective.

Agreeing to keep the lines of communication open, spokesman Jud Kneuvean, emergency management chief for the corps’ Kansas City district, said they want to avoid another fiasco.

“There’s a lot of hurt and pain out there and it doesn’t bother me that they express that,” he said. “But we’re going to continue that dialogue with them because we want to find better solutions to the future.”

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPGaug.

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