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139th Airlift Wing works with volunteers to reinforce levee, save Elwood from flood

With thousands of sandbags and hours work, volunteers and 139th Airlift Wing reinforce the levee protecting Elwood and the surrounding community.

Posted: Mar 23, 2019 10:35 PM
Updated: Mar 24, 2019 3:26 PM

(ELWOOD, Kan.)— With thousands of sandbags and hours work, volunteers and 139th Airlift Wing reinforce the levee protecting Elwood and the surrounding community.

"The water level is above the 1993 level and we stopped it," said Col. Edward E. Black, Commander of the 139th Airlift Wing. 

At least 20,000 sandbags were filled and packed to reinforce the levee protecting Elwood and the area from the Missouri River. 

More than 200 airmen helped local volunteers stack the thousands of sandbags ahead of the Missouri River rising to a record level. 

The sandbags stretched a half-mile across the level the top of the levee preventing the river from flowing over the top. 

"Elwood is still dry and that's because of the efforts of the 139th Airlift Wing and local officials and citizens here," said Rick Howell, acting Doniphan County PIO. 

Evacations for Elwood and the area started Thursday night with the Missouri reaching the 30-foot mark, but the river didn't stop there—rising to a record-breaking level of 32.11 feet. 

"This is absolutely the highest level of Missouri River water that has touched this levee," Black said. 

The river should have went over the levee, but it didn't.

"If you're going to have a fight, it's good to have friends," Black said. 

The levee was designed to keep water from going over the top until about 32 feet, but with the sandbagging effort adding a few more feet, it kept the river in check. 

"The 139th—I've been saying all morning that—they are the tip of the spear as far as the sandbagging effort," Howell said. 

With the river rising at a rapid pace during the course of approximately 36 hours, the water did reach the sandbags. 

"Our sandbag wall got wet and probably about a 1-2 feet into the sandbag wall," Black said. "Absolutely this levee would have been overtopped without this half-mile worth of sandbags that Elwood, Wathena, and the 139th put in place.")

The 12-mile levee serves as the barrier between the Missouri River and the communties. The 139th protected hundreds of families' home and potentially saved a community from devastation.

"Just really a humbling thing to be a commander of a wing that can pull stuff off like this off and have such great partnership with our local community," Black said. 

The extra sandbag wall will be left up throughout the year as flooding will remain a threat, but for now, the efforts of the 139th and volunteers kept Elwood from devasting flooding. 

"Without them, we would have had water over the top of the levee, their efforts directly impacted whether we had water coming up to Elwood," Howell said. 

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