As Nebraskans awaited a visit from Vice President Mike Pence Tuesday; March 19th, to tour the state’s flood-ravaged areas, state officials shared some improvements in the impact on Nebraska highways, as well as plans in-progress to speed up the application for federal disaster aid.
Although 79 highways had been closed at the peak of flooding in mid-March, with over 1500 miles of highways, that number is now down to 540 miles closed. “However, there are 200 miles of pavement that will require significant investment. “We now expect transportation damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis.
A whopping two-thirds of Nebraska counties have now been declared disaster areas. s of March 18th, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts had declared 65 counties, 74 cities and four tribal lands as disaster areas. We have never had this impact. We’re working as quickly as possible into the recovery process. As flood waters go down, be safe before you go in any homes,” cautioned Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, as he was joined in a ‘live’ conference call on Monday, March 18th by Nebraska National Guard Adjutant General Daryl Bohac, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director Bryan Tuma, Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis, Nebraska State Patrol Colonel John Bolduc, and Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman.
Officials also announced on the conference call, that they were expediting the process for getting a federal major disaster declaration.
“They’re reviewing our federal disaster aid request now at the (FEMA) regional office,” said Bryan Tuma, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director.
29 counties had mandatory evacuations, 18 counties let people return, six counties are not letting people back due to hazards, Tuma said. He’s also hoping to help replace tired local responders.
Nine shelters are being operated by the American Red Cross, with 474 individuals using them. The Red Cross has served nearly 4,000 meals - which have all been appreciated by weary, but thankful faces.
With some floodwaters receding in the aftermath of historic flooding engulfing east-central Nebraska, southeast Nebraska, central and north-central parts of the state, a monstrous El Niño winter season and recent ‘bomb cyclone’ storm dragging an intense low pressure system are blamed for three flood-related deaths, two missing persons, evacuation of homes, bridges pulled apart, roads washed out, a flooded church condemned and sewage back-ups. With snow and ice continuing to melt in warmer temperatures, more flooding is expected at least through Friday, March 22nd, and possibly beyond. Flooding along the Missouri River (east central Nebraska) is expected all week.
Officials confirmed three people died in the flooding; and a fourth person is missing. In Norfolk, Nebraska, a man died after driving his car into floodwaters. When a farmer near Columbus attempted to rescue a neighbor, his tractor went into a hole and flipped, killing him. Rescue officials were unable to get to an 80-year old Columbus woman because of flooding, and she died.
To date, 163 people have been rescued by Nebraska State Patrol. Another 111 people were rescued by the National Guard, and 16 saved by Urban Search and Rescue.
“On the livestock sector, the death loss from flooding and the blizzard, and sick animals needing care, and rebuilding damage has reached $400-million dollars of impact directly to the livestock sector; mostly to the beef sector,” said Steve Wellman, Director; Nebraska Department of Agriculture. Concerning the number of farm acres now unusable from flood damage, “We haven’t tried to accumulate that, at this point. We’ve tried to assess damage. However, for spring planting and field preparation, obviously there will be delays there, but its hard to know now, what that amounts to,” said Wellman. “We continue being in contact with our farming agencies.”
The Department of Agriculture has started a hotline: 1-800-831-0550 “Our goal with that hotline is to receive calls from farmers and ranchers regarding what they need to continue with their operations, and to receive offers of supplies and help. Today, 2/3rd of the calls we received offered supplies and help. We’re very thankful for the response for those offering help to our farmers and ranchers,” said Wellman. “This all has an impact when dealing with this daily, either on homes or farms and ranches…and so for anyone experiencing stress and needing to reach out: call: 800-464-0258.
Downstream from Omaha is still in moderate flood, and then it’s in record flood territory. “The river is just now cresting and will probably be in record flood for the entire week (through March 23,)” said Van DeWald, lead meteorologist with the NWS Omaha office, which also flooded when the dike failed Friday morning. “Our (National Weather Service) office is a couple of miles from the Platte River, and our office had an hour to shutdown everything, move equipment up on desks and get out of the building,” said DeWald. Some of the forecasters are working out of the Hastings NWS office; issuing alerts and forecasts.
While water is receding, the bad news is – it’s revealing a lot of damage. “We don’t have widespread reports of looting, but we’ve received calls with suspicious activity, and we have zero tolerance for anyone coming into these damage areas – those people will get our full attention with law enforcement,” said Colonel Bolduc.
The National Weather Service has issued its 2019 Spring Flood Outlook for eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, and unfortunately, for much of that area, there is a much-above-normal risk for minor and moderate flooding this spring; largely the result of high soil moisture, elevated river levels and an increasing snowpack.
For those wanting to help or donate, officials are recommending contacting the American Red Cross: www.Redcross.org to donate time, money, blood donations.