Atchison County flooding

(Rock Port) -- While still coping with the aftermath of the 2019 floods, Atchison County residents are casting a dubious eye toward next spring.

While the National Weather Service won't issue its spring flood outlook until February, Atchison County Emergency Management Coordinator Rhonda Wiley tells KMA News the county already anticipates a similar round of flooding in 2020.

"We fully expect to be flooded again next year," said Wiley. "The degree of flooding, we don't know. We've never faced anything like this, to my knowledge. From what everybody tells me, from those who have been a lot longer than I have, they've never seen anything like this. Our levees are torn to pieces. If it comes up again next year--and it is forecast to do so--we don't know what we're going to do. We're not sure."

Wiley says any flooding next spring may depend on successful mitigation of the county's levee system--not only the federal levees such as L-550 near Watson, but in the individual levee districts.

"Our levee sponsors are trying to mitigate further flooding disasters by moving the levee back," she said, "and giving the river more space to do its thing. If they are able to mitigate and put the levees back--the levee setback--then that will also help U.S. Highway 136 to a certain degree."

In the meantime, recovery from this past spring's flooding continues at a slow pace. In fact--except for some field work taking place in flood-stricken areas--Wiley says very little is happening.

"The farmers have been doing some work to their grounds," said Wiley. "As far as homeowners, I think a lot of the homeowners have either decided not to go back at all, or are waiting to see what happens next year, from what I've been hearing from them."

Approximately 75,000 acres of farm land was consumed by floodwaters in March, then again in late May. Wiley says the flooding had a devastating impact on the county's agriculture sector.

"From those that are primarily on bottom ground," she said, "basically, they're going without a year of income from those acres that they normally farm. Then if you think about it, we lost several grain bins because people were unable to move their grain out because of the mud--they couldn't get in there to haul their grain out. So, if those farmers lost that, then that was their income from 2018, as well, that they still had in their grain bins."

Complicating flood recovery efforts is a delay in disaster relief assistance coming to some victims. Wiley says uninsured residents were victimized by a split federal disaster declaration for northern Missouri. She says some victims seeking individual assistance failed to fall into the separate declaration time periods.

"If a person was not still flooded by the April 28th date, then they did not qualify," said Wiley. "Plus, those that did qualify because they still had water in their homes, and were still affected by the flood--April 29th or after--there was no assistance like rent assistance, and other assistance for the first six weeks they were out of their homes. So, it's been a big deal."

Last month, Wiley testified during a congressional hearing in Washington on discrepancies in disaster assistance. The U.S. House Subcommittee of Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management hosted the hearing on federal recovery efforts from recent disasters--including the Missouri River flooding. Northern Missouri Congressman Sam Graves of Tarkio--the ranking member of the House Transportation Committee--said the discrepancies made no sense, considering provisions passed under the Disaster Recovery Reform Act directing FEMA to give more consideration for localized impact in multiple recent disasters.