Sheldon Surveys Damage: “It’s Much, Much Worse Than 2011”

PERCIVAL – The levees protecting towns, 2,300 people and over $300 million in property on the Iowa side of the Missouri River at Mills and Fremont counties performed as designed, but ultimately failed because there was too much water in the March flood of 2019.

That’s the initial assessment of Pat Sheldon, president of the Benton/Washington Levee District, which manages 42 miles of levee from Thurman to the Missouri border.

It took $150 million to repair the levees after 2011, but repair estimates following this flood are in the range of $500 million.

Sheldon: “It’s a mess. It’s a terrible mess. There’s lots of erosion and lots of damage. It performed brilliantly for what it was designed to do, but it just sent more water at us than we had height. It went over the top and that caused tons of erosion.”

The river crested at 30.1 feet at Nebraska City, nearly two feet above the record set in 2011.

Officials say the Missouri River levee breached in 12 places in three states, including near Highway 333 west of Hamburg, Iowa, and just below Plum Creek near mile marker 18.2 on Interstate 29.

Sheldon: “The one down south, the original one that caused all the issues for Hamburg, is a large breach now. It’s several hundred yards wide, letting copious amounts of water through. The one up north, on the north end of our system, south of Thurman, is probably 200 to 300 yards wide also.”

He said a helicopter from Cedar Ridge Aviation flew him to inspect the levee Wednesday morning. They discovered that south of Hamburg the levee had been overtopping.

Sheldon: “The footprint of this flood is much, much larger than 2011. I’ve seen damage on the interstate north of Percival, you know, the railroad tracks system is a mess. We don’t have any idea what Highway 2 will be like. You know, we haven’t been able to see it yet. It’s still covered with water. The water at 2 and 29 is much, much deeper than 2011.  There are places where it goes clear to the bluffs over by Sidney and Hamburg. It’s just incredible to see from the air.”

The flood is also worse because the US Army Corps of Engineers had time in 2011 to build up the West Ditch around Hamburg. This time, there was no time to prepare.

He said when water recedes, one of the first work to be done is repair roads enough that Federal Emergency Management Agency inspectors can get to the damaged areas.

Photos by Mills County EMA, US Army Corps of Engineers, Facebook posts