otential flooding concerns in response to water releases from the Dakotas have volunteers filling sandbags and fortifying levees in the Farley-Beverly drainage area of the Missouri River this week.
Working from the parking lot of Hill Brothers Construction near the parallel stretch of Highways 92 and 45 in Beverly, volunteers aren’t sure what to expect but, said Bob Kincaid who is helping with the effort, are planning to get 161,000 sandbags ready to go.
Volunteers are bagging the sand in Beverly and placing it on pallets, then transporting some of the bags about six miles south to Farley. Steve Fulk, board member of the Farley-Beverly levee district, said that because they are unsure of where the bags will be needed most, part of the strategy is to keep a mobile supply of sandbags ready to go.
Fulk said that while it is nice to work “in the dry” rather than trying to place sandbags along the river’s banks while standing in floodwater, circumstances this time around make things tricky to predict.
“I’m not sure they’re as certain of this situation as what they would be under a normal Mother Nature-sponsored flood event because in this event they have to manage what they’re releasing along with Mother Nature and that’s a tough game,” said Fulk.
“Is it necessary?” he asked. “We won’t know until it’s all over.”
Fulk said that one of the unusual concerns for this possible flooding event may not stem from high water coming over the sandbags, but from water coming through from beneath fortifications due to extended contact with sandbags. Water that presses against bags for any length of time, he said, may saturate areas below, eventually forming little rivulets, called sand boils, on the land side. Once that starts, he said, the only solution is to build a large, tall ring around the area with sandbags.
“You allow those sandbags to contain that water and let that water come up until it pressurizes and stops moving,” he said. “The idea there is to stop the movement because if you let the water keep moving underground, it’s going to take material away and if the material goes away underneath that levee, that’s when failure can happen.”
Fulk said that once the bags are in place, they will need to be watched vigilantly for sand boils.
“These things aren’t meant to have water up against them for the period of time that they’re advertising this (event), so every day we can survive without water against them is a good day,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of work when there’s not necessarily a threat of going over the top and its going to be police-type work. It’s going to be running these levees and looking for issues on the land side.”
Fulk said that they plan to reserve between 3,000 and 5,000 bags to build rings around sand boils if necessary. For now, he said, volunteers are building up the river two or three bags high in two areas while they wait to see what will happen next.
“That may be a little shy,” he said, “but it puts us close enough that we can finish it off pretty quickly.”
Fulk said that a flood of the Platte River in 1965 left water deep enough that he had to boat to his house but then said that current concerns over the Missouri River are a different story. The Farley-Beverly area comprises about 9,000 acres which, he said, will either be completely dry or completely flooded depending on how things go.
“If this levee doesn’t hold, it means it’s going to break,” Fulk said. “It’s going to be all or nothing. It’s not going to be a story where I had 12 inches of water in my house. You’re either going to have none or its going to be in your upstairs.”
Fulk estimated that the levee is 15 feet off the ground and holds back a 100- to 300- foot wide section of the Missouri River.
“If you’re behind a smaller levee and it breaks, a lot of times you don’t get that radical height, but this is holding so much (water) back that if it goes… I figure if this levee breaks, my house will be in St. Louis,” he said.
Fulk expressed optimism in light of the current situation, though, comparing it to the flooding event in 1993 during which, he said, they’d had to contend with around 15 inches of rainwater that fell in about 10 days.
“Well now, you talk about a world changer!” he said. “So if we stay away from anything that is really out of the ordinary, I think we’ve got a shot here of holding this water. This is a pretty substantial levee.”
After providing support services during the sandbagging in Parkville earlier this month, the Platte County Health Department is again actively on-site for the operations now underway in the Farley-Beverly district.
“This is an opportunity to get out in the community and serve our community in a whole new way than the traditional expectations of public health,” said director Mary Jo Vernon. “We just look at it as our contribution.”
Vernon said that the health department has set up its emergency response trailer at the site and is checking in and putting name badges on volunteers.
The health department is also offering free tetanus vaccinations to anyone involved in the flood effort, Vernon said, not to protect from the sandbagging but from the floodwaters. Tetanus, she said, can be contracted from any kind of rusty metal and focusing on sandbagging volunteers gives the health department “something of a captive audience.”
“One in five people who are diagnosed with tetanus die,” she said. “There’s a 20% mortality rate.”
The health department is also encouraging volunteers to stay hydrated and take a break every 30 minutes and is monitoring food donations in an effort to protect volunteers from getting food poisoning from eating foods that have been in the sun too long.
“We don’t want anyone getting sick with food poisoning while they’re out there trying to take care of their community,” said Vernon.
Vernon requested that residents in the community remain on the lookout for volunteer opportunities and said that the Platte County Health Department will be posting regular updates to its Web site at www.plattecountyhealthdept.com.