A temporary earthen levee is the only barrier standing between Hamburg and the floodwaters of the Missouri River, and officials hope efforts to beef it up will be enough to keep the small southwestern Iowa town from filling up like a bathtub.
Crews working for the Army Corps of Engineers hope to pile at least three feet of extra dirt atop the levee before Wednesday evening. The stakes are high: If it fails, parts of the town could be covered by as much as 10 feet of water within days. And high water could linger for months.
The hurriedly constructed levee became Hamburg's last line of defense after the river punched through another levee downstream in northwest Missouri that provided the town's primary protection. That failure left water gushing through a large gap on a path to inundate the town of 1,100 - unless the other levee can be made taller.
"I feel good about it," Fire Chief Dan Sturm said. "But we can't guarantee anything. We've never really had to cope with anything of this magnitude."
Even though the levee breach was downstream, the floodwaters were flowing north to fill the area around Hamburg because the town sits in a valley. The fire chief compared the geography to a slowly filling bathtub.