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Hundreds of US homes flooded as rivers breach levees

The flooding has been blamed for at least three deaths.

The Elkhorn River in Omaha, Nebraska (Jeff Bundy/Omaha World-Herald/AP)
The Elkhorn River in Omaha, Nebraska (Jeff Bundy/Omaha World-Herald/AP)

Hundreds of homes have been flooded in several US Midwestern states after rivers breached at least a dozen levees following heavy rain and snow melt in the region, authorities said.

About 200 miles of levees were compromised — either breached or overtopped — in four states, the US Army Corps of Engineers said.

Even in places where the water level had peaked in those states — Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas — the current was fast and the water so high that damage continued to pile up.

The flooding was blamed for at least three deaths.

Betty Hamernik, 80, of rural Columbus, was trapped in her home by the fast-rising Loup River. Her body was recovered on Saturday.

Aleido Rojas Galan, of Norfolk, was swept away on Friday night in south-western Iowa when the vehicle he was in went around a barricade. On Thursday, Columbus farmer James Wilke, 50, died when a bridge collapsed as he used a tractor to try to reach stranded motorists.

Two men in Nebraska have been missing since Thursday. One was last seen on top of his flooded car; the other was swept away after a dam collapsed.

“The levees are busted and we aren’t even into the wet season when the rivers run high,” said Tom Bullock, the emergency management director for Holt County, Missouri.

He said many homes in a mostly rural area of Holt County were inundated with 6ft to 7ft of water from the swollen Missouri River. He noted that local farmers are only a month away from planting corn and soybeans.

“The water isn’t going to be gone, and the levees aren’t going to be fixed this year,” said Mr Bullock, whose own home is now on an island surrounded by floodwater.

One couple was rescued by helicopter after water from three breached levees swept across 40,000 acres, he said. Another nine breaches were confirmed in Nebraska and Iowa counties south of the Platte River, the Corps said.

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The Missouri River floods across K-7 highway (Orlin Wagner/AP)

In nearby Atchison County, Missouri, about 130 people were urged to leave their homes as water levels rose and strained levees, three of which had already been overtopped by water.

Missouri State Highway Patrol crews were on standby to rescue anyone who insisted on staying despite the danger.

“The next four to five days are going to be pretty rough,” said Rhonda Wiley, Atchison County’s emergency management and 911 director.

The Missouri River had already crested upstream of Omaha, Nebraska, though hundreds of people remained out of their homes and water continued to pour through busted levees.

Flooding was so bad around Fremont, Nebraska, that just one lane of US 30 was uncovered outside the city of 26,000.

State police limited traffic on that road to pre-approved trucks carrying fuel, food, water and other essential supplies.

In south-west Iowa, the Missouri River reached a level in Fremont County that was 2ft above a record set in 2011.

The county’s emergency management director, Mike Crecelius, said more water was flooding into low-lying parts of Hamburg, where a wall of sand-filled barriers was breached when one failed.

Iowa governor Kim Reynolds, touring flood-ravaged areas of the state for the second straight day, warned that flooding will worsen along the Mississippi River as snow melts to the north.

The National Weather Service said the river was expected to crest on Thursday in St Joseph, Missouri, at its third-highest level on record.

Military C-130 planes were evacuated last week from nearby Rosecrans Air National Guard base.

In North Dakota, Fargo was preparing for potentially major flooding along the Red River — the same river that ravaged the city a decade ago.

The city declared an emergency and mayor Tim Mahoney asked residents to help fill a million sandbags.

That was in response to the National Weather Service warning that snow melt poses a big risk in Fargo, which now stands a 90% chance of major flooding. Sandbag-filling operations begin on March 26.

PA

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