Hamburg, Iowa, Places Hopes On Temporary Levee

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Residents of Hamburg, Iowa, hope that a temporary levee will save their town from the rising Missouri River. Workers are adding to the levee to raise its height. It is the town's last line of defense after another levee was breached.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, now to the southwest corner of Iowa where crews are scrambling to protect the town of Hamburg from flooding. The Missouri River broke through two levees there yesterday. Now, the Army Corps of Engineers is trying to reinforce the final barrier between the river and the town.

Clay Masters of member station NET Radio got a firsthand view.

CLAY MASTERS: Farmer David Mincer's house is built into the side of a bluff on the outskirts of Hamburg. Standing on his dirt roof, you can see the approaching Missouri River floodwaters. He points out where water created a 300-foot-long hole in the earthen levee.

Mr. DAVID MINCER (Farmer): See those buildings right over there? It's right back of it. You almost can see it boiling a little bit.

MASTERS: The Army Corps of engineers says Missouri River flooding this summer could rival the record years of 1952 and 1993 in some places.

Mincer is concerned about his crops, but says flood insurance will likely cover most of the losses. He's lived his whole life in Hamburg and says the last time the river got this high was 18 years ago.

Mr. MINCER: That was from surface water and then you had water coming down the bottom, where it was wet out to the west right now, and then it worked its way down there, but not like this where it's coming back at us.

MASTERS: Colonel Bob Ruch is with the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers. He's been coordinating the effort to bolster the levee.

Colonel BOB RUCH (U.S. Corps of Army Engineers): Yesterday morning, we had the full breach, about 300 feet of levee gave way - I think you've probably seen a film of that. So, we came back, we looked very closely at levee we have going right now, and we were originally building that to an elevation 916 feet. We've upped that to 919, and that's the work you're seeing right now.

MASTERS: Ruch says if the levee breaks parts of Hamburg could be under as much as 10 feet of standing water.

Marta Ferry is staying put in her home because it's elevated. While many of her neighbors have already left, she's concerned that some really have nowhere to go.

Ms. MARTA FERRY: The concern is there because I'm not in the flood plain, so I don't have flood insurance. So, I did, to take the worry out, I did move some things and my son is very concerned about his stuff. His bedroom's in the basement.

MASTERS: Most of the businesses on Main Street have closed in anticipation of the flooding. The Blue Moon Bar and Grill is the only place around here serving lunch.

Chuck Behris is eating a noodle casserole dish. Even though he's shut down his nearby bakery, he says he isn't too concerned. Talking with Blue Moon owner Wilma Hendrickson, he says he's hopeful the levee will hold.

Mr. CHUCK BEHRIS (Bakery Owner): I'm not worried in town now that they built the levee up out there. They put three feet on the top of it. We already had a levee there, so we should be fine. And, remember, that levee is just holding back water. It's not running water.

MASTERS: The river is expected to remain high at least into August. As residents up and down the river keep a watchful eye on water levels, people here hope their levee will do its job.

For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Hamburg, Iowa.

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