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Governor: Punishing amounts of water threaten levees
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Governor: Punishing amounts of water threaten levees

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Gov. Dave Heineman returned Tuesday evening from a flight during which he surveyed rising floodwaters that continue to strain levees in the South Sioux City area.

Heineman commended the city's leadership and preparation and praised interstate cooperation among Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska officials at news conferences in Lincoln's Air National Guard base and one earlier in the day in South Sioux City.

"They feel very well-prepared," he said.

The river at Sioux City, Iowa, reached 33.12 feet by midafternoon Tuesday, down from 33.55 feet in the morning, as the release from Gavins Point Dam in Yankton, S.D., reached a historic high of 150,000 cubic feet per second.

Most levees around the Missouri River are built to withstand surge waters for three to four days, according to Nebraska Emergency Management officials.

This year, they likely will face punishing amounts of water for several months as the Army Corps of Engineers releases record amounts of water from Gavins Point.

"As the volume of water and the speed increases, we need to be very watchful in our state along the Missouri River," Heineman said.

In South Sioux City, Heineman said he's concerned about the effect on every resident of every part of Nebraska experiencing flooding, listing 20 towns and cities.

He promised to ask for a presidential disaster declaration once the full impact of 2011 flooding on homes, businesses and farms is known. He said he has no doubt that request will be granted; federal government money then would flow to aid Nebraskans.

He said he understands the anger those affected feel toward the Army Corp of Engineers as they release water that could destroy homes and livelihoods.

Heineman said he will look to Congress to address future flood management situations.

Al Berndt, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said the state has a $12 million emergency fund that can be tapped.

"My focus is on protecting the lives of our citizens, property and critical infrastructure," Heineman said in response to a question about costs of the flood. "We're going to be thoughtful and careful when it comes to funds, but we're not going to spare a dollar when it comes to saving the lives of our citizens."

About a dozen Nebraska National Guard members are monitoring the levee at South Sioux City around the clock, Brig. Gen. Judd Lyons said.

Farther south, near Fort Calhoun, farmland and the nuclear power plant are surrounded by floodwaters, Heineman said. The power plant is offline for routine maintenance.

In Omaha, floodwaters continue to creep toward Eppley Airfield and the Omaha Correctional Center.

Heineman wasn't concerned about the College World Series, which begins at TD Ameritrade Park, near the river, this weekend.

"From the air, I don't envision a problem," Heineman said. "I plan on being in the stands come Saturday."

About 200 parking stalls near TD Ameritrade Park have been affected by water bubbling out of storm sewers.

"How it's coming up is a mystery to us; that's what we're trying to find the answers to," Roger Dixon, president of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, told Omaha television station KETV.

Omaha officials are concerned that more than 2 inches of rain could cause the sewer system to back up further. Heineman said he hopes the weather holds while the series is going on.

Reach Jordan Pascale at 402-473-7120 or jpascale@journalstar.com. The Sioux City Journal contributed to this story.

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