PERCIVAL, Iowa — At 10 a.m. Thursday, this unincorporated town of 87 people was mostly dry, except for the ditches.
By noon, the Missouri River ran through the streets — a foot deep in some places — with the few remaining residents scrambling into pickups and sloshing out of town.
Floodwaters rushed into Percival after a nearby levee broke in the early morning hours. The water worked its way through farm fields, over rural roads and into town.
Fremont County's emergency manager expects the town eventually to be swamped under 10 feet of water, based on Army Corps of Engineers estimates, and that the water will rush south until it hits the new levee at Hamburg.
“The long, slow wait is over,” said Charlie Bohlen, owner of Bohlen's Farm Service as muddy, shimmering water filled cracks in the pavement of a street near his store.
Percival is about 16 miles northwest of Hamburg, where a secondary levee was built in June.
“From north of Percival to Hamburg, everything is pretty much downhill,” said Mike Crecelius, Fremont County's emergency manager. “At the rate this is going, from (Percival) south, we are probably going to end up with water from the river to the bluff.”
Corps officials on Thursday said they needed more time to figure out when the water level in Percival might reach its peak, or what that height might be. But the water will stick around for the duration of the flood, and based on upstream dam releases, that could be months.
Crecelius said the county had requested that the corps determine whether the levee could be fixed, but he said he didn't think anything could be done. The corps couldn't fix things in Atchison County, Mo., south of Hamburg.
“Judging from what happened with the breach down south, it's lost.”
Crecelius said he did not know exactly when the levee northwest of Percival broke, but based on a sudden decline in river levels, he estimated that it about 3 a.m. Thursday.
Sidney residents Adam and Gina Lutz got the call about 8:20 a.m.
“Adam comes out, says, ‘The levee broke. Got to go,' kisses me and left,” Gina Lutz said.
Adam and later Gina and her son Nash Graham, 14, traveled to Percival, Adam's hometown and the town where his father, Dave Lutz, 64, remained, though most others had left.
About 10:30 a.m., they were loading the last of Dave's things onto a pickup and trailer, including a refrigerator and a window-unit air conditioner.
Most of the townspeople scattered about a month ago, to places like Sidney and Nebraska City. But Dave Lutz, a former Percival fire chief, stuck around to deter looters.
He also helped with a community-wide effort to shore up the levees with sandbags.
Asked how it felt to know that the town had lost its monthlong battle with the river, the four-decade Percival resident compared the floodwaters' rapid approach to a death in the family.
“(It's) sad in a way, but in another way, it's like a monkey off your back,” he said, eyes welling. “Once it's over, you feel a breath of fresh air.”
A few blocks away, Gregory Sherwood, 62, was moving the last of his things out of Sherwood Lumber & Concrete, a business that has been in Sherwood's family all his life.
Blue T-shirt soaked with sweat, he handed boxes to a shirtless Jim Harvey, in overalls. Most times Sherwood handed over a box, Harvey replied with a curt, “Goes with?”
Not all of Sherwood's things are being hauled away. He left a DeLorean sports car on blocks six-feet high.
“It's stressful, but I'm glad I'm in this community,” Sherwood said. “I plan to come back.”
About 11:05 a.m., Chris Boyd of the Percival area fire department pulled up in a blue pickup.
Water was encroaching on the north side of town, he told Sherwood. There was no time to waste.
“You've got about an hour,” he said.
He wasn't exaggerating. To the north, water invaded the grounds of the old school, covering land dry an hour before.
A few short blocks away, on the south side of town, a group of maybe 20 townspeople gathered at Bohlen's Farm Service and watched the river push into Percival, swamping their yards. It happened in a blink.
The water hit Sherwood's 207th Street lumber yard just after noon — Boyd's prediction dead-on.
The folks at Bohlen's took cellphone pictures, some stepping through water. Then they jumped into their vehicles and drove off as the river inundated the parking lot, plotting a new channel through town.
One woman who lived in town but had evacuated tried to get back to her home, although most of town was flooded.
Boyd stopped her, saying “There's water right there across the road. Turn around and get out!”
As the pickups from Bohlen's roared south on County Road L31, Bohlen and two adult daughters stood in front of the house of a friend, watching water envelop the yard from the east.
Bohlen had taken care of the lawn for the elderly owner; she has told Bohlen she would like to sell him the home when she moves.
It would have been really nice, a stone's throw from his shop, which is the town's gathering place, thanks to the free coffee.
Bohlen hugged his daughters. A granddaughter snapped a picture.
“It's just like washing your old life away and a new life is ahead of us,” he said. “It's just kind of a question what's in store.”
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Video of levee breach near Percival, Iowa: