Racing against time while Missouri flood waters rise

Racing against time while Missouri flood waters rise
Farmer Randy Olsen spent most of the day yesterday and more time this morning filling, throwing and stacking sandbags in Missouri Valley. Before that he frantically pulled fans from grain bins and motors off of pivot irrigators in his fields and moved his large tractors and combines to higher ground.

That’s been Olsen’s life for the past ten days  as he works against the clock to secure as much of his property and his community as he can before flood waters from the upper Missouri River reach and possibly inundate his hometown of Missouri Valley. Olsen, like many farmers up and down the Missouri River found out several days ago that the thriving corn and soybean crops they have in their fields will most likely be underwater for the next several months and will be a complete loss.

The farmers didn’t point fingers or curse their luck. Instead, in Harrison County where Olsen lives, a group of farmers pooled their equipment and manpower and hustled to build dikes on old sand ridges to keep water away from fields, farms and towns.

“We did a lot of work but time is against you,” said Randy Olsen, a Harrison County Farm Bureau member, as he sandbagged at a dentist’s office in Missouri Valley. “None of these dikes were meant to hold water for three months. They’re dirt structures and once water gets on the back side of this Loess soil it just kind of melts away.”

As I talked to farmers, residents and business owners this past week in towns like Hamburg, Pacific Junction and Missouri Valley they all felt the same disbelief of the situation. How could a flood like this happen and will it really be as bad as predicted?

By all indications it will be. State and federal agencies are reporting that the 150,000 cubic feet of water per second that is being released from dams in North and South Dakota will leave the channel of the Missouri River and flood up to 100,000 acres of farm land and possibly devastate several towns like Hamburg, Pacific Junction and Modale in western Iowa.

To put that in context, during the historic floods of 1952 waters of the Missouri River reached a flagpole in the center of Hamburg, nearly four miles from the river. This year water it is expected to rise 10 feet above the base and stay for several months.

A drive on the gravel roads that criss-cross the area near the river also provides you with an eerie answer about how serious this flood is. One week into evacuations, farmsteads stand empty and the only people around are those trying to build up dikes.

Earlier this week I talked with Darrel McAlexander a farmer near Hamburg that is also a part owner of a business that will be flooded when the water comes.

“You can’t imagine seeing it that deep,” Darrel McAlexander said. “I’m almost 67 years-old and I’ve seen a lot of floods in Fremont County and this would be the most devastating flood of my lifetime if it gets to the depth they are predicting.”

The devastation wouldn’t just happen to farm ground either, as McAlexander looked at homes across the street from his business.

“If water stands for months (as predicted) you’ll also have to bulldoze a lot of these houses,” he said.

Back in Missouri Valley, Olsen continues to help his neighbors and others in the community with the few precious hours they have left before more and more water makes its way into the area.

“We just take one day at a time now,” Olsen said. “We’re going to fight all we can fight.”

Written by Joe Murphy
Joe is a photographer and writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.