Trying to be proactive, leaders order evacuation for parts of St. Joseph as river rises

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The Missouri River is reaching record levels in St. Joseph.

“I’ve told all my neighbors and I keep telling my family: Plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Elwood resident Lynda Sherman said.

Thankfully, the levees are holding right now. But after what’s unfolded in Nebraska, city leaders said it wasn’t worth waiting for a breach to happen and they've ordered thousands of people in the flood zone to get out.

Riverfront homes in St. Joseph are now submerged, and many in the city are nervous the levees here could be over-topped or breached by the rising river.

“I asked them, ‘Do we have to leave?’ And he says, ‘Well if you don’t, we can’t come back in here and help you if it floods,’” said Linda Roberts of St. Joe.

She and her husband John weren't about to roll the dice. So when police officers showed up Friday telling them to move, they took their dog, some clothes and medicine and headed to the emergency shelter at The Keys Christian Church.

“It’s nice. Otherwise, we’d have to rent a motel room. And when you’re on a fixed income, you don’t have the money to do something like that,” Roberts said.

Lynda Sherman stopped at the shelter to volunteer. She's staying with family nearby after fleeing her own home in Elwood.

“I went through this in 2011. I thought we’d still be alright. I was trying to stay calm until the sirens went off last night, and we just grabbed and left,” Sherman said.

Sherman knows not everyone was able to grab belongings when they evacuated. So she and the owners of Hidden Treasures consignment shop in St. Joe coordinated a clothing drive, where anyone needing items can stop by and get them for free.

“It’s not a lot that we’re doing, but any little bit can help,” Sherman said.

But not everyone is eager to leave. Some residents still insist on sticking it out unless conditions get dangerous.

“They had a suspicion of it happening years ago, but it didn’t come up this far. But possibly this time it could be different. I really don’t know until it happens of course,” Randy Erickson said.

In 1993, a 32-foot river washed out much of south St. Joseph. The river's already surpassed that level now. But added sandbags along the levees are helping hold water back.

Regardless, the city's thankful the majority of homeowners and businesses understand the threat is very real.

“Those businesses could stand to lose a lot even if there is no flooding issues. They’ve stopped production. They’re losing revenue when they’re closed. So we do appreciate our residents taking this very seriously,” said Mary Robertson, spokesperson for the city of St. Joseph.

Traffic is being restricted right now heading toward the river, and Interstate 29 north of St. Joe remains closed. The city said it will continue to keep a close watch on river levels to decide when the issue the "all clear" for evacuated residents to return home.

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