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Flood of Rumors along the Missouri River

Sandbagging the Dakota Dunes levee earlier this month (photo: Sgt. Charlie Jacobson, SD National Guard)

The flood of waters continues, but as usual during a natural disaster, the flood of rumors is rolling right along with it.

“Did you hear that the Dakota Dunes levee has broken?” Uh, it didn’t. There was some damage to one portion, but it was spotted by inspectors who were on watch for this very thing, and it has been repaired.  You can pick your favorite dam or levee, and there’s probably been a rumor that it’s broken or failed. Says the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan:

Colonel Robert Ruch (pronounced Rook), the commander of the Omaha district for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, stresses during a teleconference held daily with national, state and local officials, as well as journalists, that the mainstem dams along the Missouri River are structurally sound.

“There’s been a rumor every day (of problems with the dams),” he said Thursday. “You get calls in from the public that they heard this or that. I think the local and state officials have been doing a great job tamping them down.

“I have seen every dam this week — some of them operating at 150,000 cubic feet per second (cfs),” Ruch continued. “They are operating magnificently.”

Yes, there are levees that have broken already, and others will break in the future — but rumors of breaks are just that: rumors.

Did you hear that since the Army Corps of Engineers decided to release the water creating this flood, it will be classified as a ‘man-made’ disaster, which means that crop losses will not be covered by crop insurance?” Uh, no, the USDA has no intention of calling this anything but a natural disaster. Farmers can relax, and get back to worrying about protecting their fields and farms, and not whether their crop insurance is any good.

But the winner in the outrageous rumor sweepstakes is the alleged pending Fukushima-style disaster in Nebraska: “Did you hear that the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant declared a Level Four Nuclear Emergency and the FAA closed the airspace over the plant?” Calm down, folks — the plant is fine. The Omaha Public Power District has their own rumor control page, with all the boring details. The Omaha World-Herald has the denials and pushback from all the local folks and the NRC. Yes, there’s lots of water in the river, but it’s all outside the plant where it belongs. Yes, the FAA did close the airspace over the plant, but that’s because too many news helicopters were flying too low over the plant, and the FAA and plant managers feared that they might hit power lines or crash into one another. This is the analogous to boating restrictions which are commonly put in place to keep levees and dams safe from being damaged by a boat. The last thing the NRC and FAA want is for two news copters to hit each other, fall to earth and take out a part of the levee keeping the plant dry.

Around here, one of my favorite questions when someone drops a tasty news item into a thread is “got a link for that?” When the link to a story about a Level Four Nuclear Emergency in Nebraska appears at a Hawaiian website, however, it makes sense to check to see if there’s confirmation from someone a bit closer to Nebraska. If there’s a reference to a government agency, check the agency’s website.

Rumors flow faster than the water during a disaster like this. The folks who are working on protecting homes, businesses, and communities have enough to do without having to beat back rumors — but this, too, is part of dealing with a disaster.


h/t for the photo of sandbagging the Dakota Dunes levee earlier this month:  Sgt. Charlie Jacobson of the South Dakota National Guard

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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