ONAWA, Iowa — They wanted a guarantee of some kind, that such-and-such amount of water will be released from dams upstream on the Missouri River and that it will lead to this-and-that in Monona County.
And while the Army Corps of Engineers provided local residents its worst-case scenario, it could not offer such a guarantee.
When it comes to Mother Nature in extreme circumstances, can anybody?
“There's too many ifs in this whole thing,” said Barry Erickson, who farms land near Blencoe that he expects to get flooded. “There's too many things they don't know about. ... They have a general idea, but nobody really knows.”
The Corps of Engineers is warning of extensive flooding in the Missouri River valley as dams upstream release record amounts of water following mammoth rainfall this spring and unusually high snowmelt.
In a scene being repeated up and down the Missouri River this week, the people of Monona County gathered Thursday at the West Monona Community School to get their questions answered.
Questions like, what will happen to my home?
Where will we evacuate?
What should I do about my mother who is in her 60s?
Sheriff Jeff Pratt and Randy Behm of the corps' Omaha District office tried to provide the answers. The audience of nearly 1,000 people was unfailingly polite, applauding Behm as he was introduced.
The officials said that even in the worst case, they did not foresee major flooding in Onawa. That seemed to satisfy the crowd.
“The only water coming in is groundwater, and that we can handle,” said Diane Pratt, 30.
In other cases, there was probably no answer that could satisfy people. There was no way of knowing, too many variables.
“They couldn't guarantee how much water they are going to release,” Erickson said. “And that's the kind of stuff people worry about.”
The meeting served to warn people where floodwaters might ultimately come, letting those who live in or near those areas know they had better get ready. Blencoe, for example, might get nothing, or up to 2 feet of water.
Officials said people need to figure out where they are going to go if they have to leave their homes. If they are near floodwaters, they should plan on getting a tetanus shot.
“Even the sheriff, who hates needles, is gonna get a shot,” Pratt told the audience.
Some asked how they would know when to evacuate or whether a particular road would be closed because of floodwaters. The sheriff said authorities would put the word out.
That did not satisfy Carolyn Fiscus, 63, of rural Whiting, who lives about two miles from the river.
“They are not going to be able to warn us. We are going to have to watch the river,” she said.
There was a sense of resignation among some who attended.
Kay Sorenson, 51, of Onawa, who owns property by the Missouri, said there was only so much that could be done.
“You can't out-think Mother Nature,” she said. “If it gets here, it gets here. I can't stop it.”
Fiscus said she was concerned about family members who work at the casinos along the river.
“The corps has been talking about all these dams and how they have the ultimate control of nature. Well, we'll see.”
Video: Flooding in Modale, Iowa: