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Pacific Junction Mayor Didn't Think He'd Ever See His Hometown Get Flooded By The Missouri River

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

He’s seen his hometown saturated with water on many occasions, but Mayor Andy Young never thought he’d see the day Pacific Junction would succumb to flood water from the Missouri River.

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“Never in my lifetime. I never thought I’d see this,” Young said Friday as he prepared for a meeting with emergency management personnel and county, state and federal elected officials. “We’ve had seep water before – the worst was in ’93 -  but this is the first time water from the Missouri has gotten in and flooded Pacific Junction.”

Pacific Junction, a community of around 450 residents and located four miles southwest of Glenwood, has been evacuated and under water since March 17, the day after a major Missouri River levee breach sent water gushing from the mouth of the Platte River in Nebraska into western Mills County.

The levee failure actually occurred southwest of Pacific Junction, but as the water moved east and south of the city, it began backfilling to the north, the opposite direction of the river’s natural flow.

“What happened was when it came in, it filled in all the way down to the Keg Creek and Pony Creek levees south of Pacific Junction,” Young said. “It went from there and kept filling up and backing up. It came from the west, went south and then came back.”

Young noted that in 2011, when flooding occurred west and southwest of Pacific Junction, the Burlington Northern – Santa Fe Railroad raised their track in and around Pacific Junction by about six feet with a massive bed of rock for protection from flood water that would presumably be coming from the west, not the south. When the flooding moved in March 17, the raised track on the south side of Pacific Junction slowed the water flow, but didn’t prevent the community from being flooded.

“We knew we were going to be in trouble because it was sifting through the railroad rock bed,” he said. “All the water was coming and there was this sifting through the rock. We did some sandbagging on the south side of that railroad trestle. We kept it from flowing in freely, then once it started breaching on the south side of it, we knew we were done.”

The raging flood water penetrated Pacific Junction from both the south and the east. Young said once the water “snuck around” and started coming in from the south, it flowed fast and furious.

“The river got so high, there was a waterfall coming on the east side of our levee on our town,” Young said.
Pacific Junction was taking preventive steps to prevent possible flooding from Pony Creek on the west side of the town days before the Missouri River levee failure. Residents were told on March 16 to prepare for a possible evacuation after the Missouri River breach occurred. Young said “the town was ready to go” when the first evacuation order was made.

“When we evacuated the west side, I think they were out of there in 15 – 20 minutes,” he said. “When it came time, the people were ready. They were either ready to stay or ready to get. I commend them for that.”

All of Pacific Junction’s fire and rescue vehicles were moved to safe ground before the flood water ravaged the community and city clerk Korrena Neppl was able to gather up and remove records from the past three or four years. A good portion of the city’s historical documents and artifacts were not salvaged, however.

“Our historical society, with the paperwork and everything, nobody thought about getting it out, so we lost all that,” Young said.

Surrounded by the protective levees and railroad tracks, Pacific Junction is often described as being a “bowl,” meaning once the town started filling up with water, there was no place to release it. As of Friday, standing water was estimated to be up to seven feet in some areas of town.

A pumping system, installed after the 1993 seep water event, is being utilized to help remove water from Pacific Junction and the surrounding area.

Young and Mills County Emergency Management officials are uncertain when residents will be able to go back to assess damage and property loss.

“It’s all going to depend how fast we can get the water out and if we can keep the Missouri from flowing because it already has a trail now it’s following,” he said. “The only positive thing about the Missouri is that we have no breach as far as I know directly west of our levees.”

Young, who has lived in Pacific Junction for 54 years, said his message to residents is “hold tight, rebuild and come back.”

Realistically, however, he knows not everyone will want to return.

“The ones that have been here all their life will come back,” he said. “The ones that haven’t been, they will move on, I think.”