• Video Below: Floodgates lowered into place
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It took only about 90 minutes Sunday for three huge steel gates to be lowered into place and close gaps along the flood wall protecting downtown Omaha from the rising Missouri River.
Several festivals that use Lewis & Clark Landing, which sits between the flood wall and the river channel, will have to be moved slightly. Otherwise, the impact on downtown Omaha should be minimal.
Gordon Andersen, the quality control manager for the Omaha Public Works Department, said he could foresee no circumstances under which Qwest Center Omaha, its parking lots, TD Ameritrade Park or downtown Omaha would be affected by the rising water. The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge also will not be affected.
The Missouri River reached flood stage of 29 feet Sunday and is projected to rise another five or six feet in the next three weeks because of the above-normal snowpacks and heavy rain in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. At a height of 34 or 35 feet, the river would creep over its west bank and start to flood Lewis & Clark Landing.
The river would then have to rise at least another five feet to top the flood wall that starts near the marina, continues south in front of Rick's Cafe Boatyard and ends near the Interstate 480 bridge.
Melinda Pearson, director of Omaha Parks and Recreation, said the Omaha Heritage Festival that took place over the weekend on the landing was cut short by one day. She said that the 14th annual Taste of Omaha festival this weekend will be moved slightly west of the landing.
“We are already working to move Taste of Omaha to some nearby streets, and we are starting to work with the other festivals — in order of the dates they will be held — so they don't have to cancel,” Pearson said.
Those events most likely also will move to west of the landing, though the details haven't been worked out.
Andersen said the floodgates worked as designed. Each is made of three-quarter-inch steel and is approximately 21 feet wide, 6 feet tall and 6,000 pounds.
It was the first time that the milelong flood wall, built in 1949, was sealed off with these particular gates, which were manufactured last year. The old gates were made of corrugated steel and took about eight hours each to install, the last time as a precaution in 1997.
“We're putting (the gates) in today because the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers is telling us that the Missouri River is going to continue to rise over the next three weeks,” Andersen said. “Our standard operating procedure for that forecast is to install the gates.”
Andersen said the wall protecting downtown Omaha is designed to contain a 500-year flood. The floodgates are likely to remain in place for at least six months.
In other developments Sunday:
>> Floodwaters continued to soak N.P. Dodge Park, which on Thursday was closed to camping and boating. Parks officials are working with boat owners to get boats removed from the marina and reschedule events for the pavilion.
>> Haworth Park in Bellevue remained closed.
>> Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle warned residents that activity along the Missouri River is considered dangerous and asked that people stay away from the riverfront for their own safety. People living along the river are encouraged to make evacuation plans.
>> Andersen said a dike is being built and sandbags are being placed to protect the wastewater treatment facility near 13th Street and Missouri Avenue. He said public works is prepared to expand sandbagging efforts, if necessary, to protect property and the lives of residents in any area that might be affected.
>> High water levels also caused the city to close isolation gates at the treatment plant. The result will be approximately 10 cubic feet per second of untreated wastewater flowing into the river. Until the river level drops below flood stage, the city urges people to avoid wading or swimming in the Missouri River near and several miles downstream of the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
>> The Red Cross announced that it has opened a shelter at Fort Calhoun High School for people who have had to evacuate their homes because of flooding.
>> Near the Nebraska-South Dakota border, the Missouri River overflowed its banks, causing evacuations. Knox County Emergency Manager Laura Hintz said all the residents in Lazy River Acres, between Niobrara and Verdel, were evacuated Sunday morning because of the widening river.
>> Nebraska Highway 12, which runs east to west through Niobrara, was open on Sunday, but Hintz said that could change day to day. She said plans are in place to protect the town's sewer lagoon, well system and school if the water should continue to rise.
>> Herb Angell, the boating administrator for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said people are being advised to stay off the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers because of deep, swiftly moving water. “We are telling everyone that it is just too dangerous to navigate,” Angell said. “If that current would push a canoe up against a bridge or other object, I don't think you could free yourself.”
>> Al Berndt of Nebraska Emergency Management said lowland flooding of the Platte River has been reported west of North Platte. The river also was flooding near Terrytown and Scottsbluff.
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Video: Floodgates lowered into place