PACIFIC JUNCTION – Pacific Junction residents aren’t about to let their town go under water without a fight.
With the waters of the Missouri River rising on a daily basis and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warning that under a worst-case scenario, Pacific Junction could be inundated with 8 to 10 feet of water, the town’s residents have spent the past week preparing for a flood of potentially historic significance.
For some Pacific Junction residents, that means devising a safety and emergency exit plan for their families should the town need to be evacuated. For others, it means volunteering their time to fill sandbags or helping a neighbor pack up personal belongings.
Sandbagging has been taking place near the Pacific Junction Fire Station since late last week. As of late Monday morning, volunteers had filled more than 45,000 sandbags.
“It would be nice if we didn’t have to use any of these and we could give them to somebody else,” volunteer and Pacific Junction city councilman Andy Young said.
The sandbags are piled up on an outdoor basketball court along Main Street. Pacific Junction Emergency Services Director Joe Liddick said the bags will be placed at strategic points around Pacific Junction if and when needed. Liddick said Pacific Junction and residents of neighboring communities have answered the call to assist with filling the bags.
“A lot of these volunteers are also trying to get their personal stuff in order,” Liddick said.
Sandbagging isn’t the only activity going on in Pacific Junction this week. The town has become a hub of activity, primarily because of the efforts of the Burlington Northern – Santa Fe Railroad as it works around the clock to save its east-west tracks that run along the south end of Pacific Junction. Hundreds of BN-SF workers and contractors have converged on the Pacific Junction area with heavy-duty construction equipment and dump trucks to build a 3.5-mile earthen levee that will abut both sides of the track. The levees will run from near the river to Pacific Junction.
Forty to 50 trains use the BN-SF route through Mills County on a daily basis. The route is considered a major link for commerce.
The railroad has been carrying out the work in cooperation with the city. Young said he’s confident the railroad will do whatever it can to not only protect its own interests, but also the city of Pacific Junction.
“We’re in good shape with the railroad helping us,” Young said.
Pacific Junction residents were provided with an abundance of information at a series of flood information meetings last Monday and Tuesday. The Monday meeting attracted an overflow crowd in the Pacific Junction Community Center, forcing officials to have a second meeting the same night. Tuesday evening, another well-attended meeting took place inside the Glenwood Community High School Auditorium.
Randall L. Behm of the Army Corps Of Engineer’s Omaha District Office told Pacific Junction residents to take warnings seriously. He expects the 2011 flood to rival the famous Missouri River floods of 1952 and 1993. Noting that the water flow rate out of Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, S.D., will reach 150,000 cubic feet per second by June 15. Factoring in the flow of other tributaries and rivers downstream, the water flow rate at the confluence of the Missouri and Platte Rivers is expected to reach 239,000 cubic feet per second.
Behm said the water flow rates will remain at the record-setting levels into late summer, creating an unprecedented situation that will test the levee system like never before.
“Heed the warning,” he said. “The water’s going to be on those levees for several months. High flows against the levees for two months is something we’ve never seen before.”
Behm and Mills County Emergency Management Director Larry Hurst assured the audience that Mills County’s 26-mile levee system has been inspected by engineers and is being monitored on a daily basis. As of this week, the levee system in Mills County is being patrolled by members of the Iowa National Guard.
Mills County residents were reminded at the meetings that boating on the Missouri River is prohibited at this time and violators will be assessed a very hefty fine when caught. Residents were also told to document all expenses associated with flood prevention and potential clean-up, to make sure their tetanus vaccination is up to date and to contact their underwriter if they have questions and concerns about the coverage provided in their private flood insurance.
Pacific Junction Mayor Jim Lovely said it’s important that citizens work together and to “error on the side of caution” when making decisions about personal safety and well-being.
Should an evacuation be necessitated, residents will be notified by a person in uniform - law enforcement officer, first responder or a person wearing a Mills County Public Health vest.
Mills County Public Health Administrator Sheri Bowen said should the need arise to evacuate Pacific Junction or any other area of Mills County, an emergency shelter plan has been established.