The state of Nebraska is experiencing widespread and devastating floods, resulting in evacuation, road closures and a state of emergency.
Starting early last week, the heat wave caused massive amounts of snow to melt rapidly on the still-frozen/saturated ground. This sudden run-off, combined with rain, caused rivers to overflow their banks and water to flow onto countless roads, making transportation impossible.
As the water levels rose, multiple levees breached, along with levees voluntarily releasing water in order to avoid breaching.
The flooding began in the northern states of the Midwest and traveled south toward Omaha. More than seven highways near or around Omaha were closed as a result of the floods, but have since reopened as the floods subside.
Some of these highways included: Highway 36 and 31, Highway 64 (West Maple) from Omaha to Waterloo, Highway 30 to Fremont and Highway 77 south to Lincoln.
In addition, Dodge street was closed due to severe flooding at 204th and 228th streets.
Nearby towns were completely cut off, with every road in and out being flooded.
Fremont was one of these towns. According to the Nebraska Joint Information Center news release, the Nebraska State Patrol, working with the Nebraska National Guard and the Nebraska Department of Transportation, led three convoys of tractor-trailers and fuel tankers from the Omaha area to Fremont for stranded citizens.
Alyssa Sanders, a Deputy State Fire Marshal and Public Information Officer at the Nebraska State Fire Marshal Agency, said that this has been an unpredictable type of flooding.
“In many places, the magnitudes were much bigger than we had seen and broke records,” Sanders said. “We are seeing an extensive loss of property, structures, dwellings, businesses, livestock and crops.”
The flooding has also affected the quality of water supplies and systems.
“Flooded private water wells or wells suspected of being impacted by flooding may need to be tested to ensure that they are safe according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services,” Sanders said. She added that there are six public drinking water systems that are not operating at this time.
Sanders mentioned the devastation for farmers all across the state as well.
“We are estimating $500 million in livestock damage and $500 million in crop damage,” she said.
According to Sanders, a grand total of 80 cities in 70 counties and four travel areas have declared emergencies, and there are still some isolated areas that are inaccessible to the public.
“In Omaha specifically, there’s significant damage to many of the infrastructure facilities,” she said, citing bridge decks and highways that have been completely washed out.
“There will need to be significant investment into infrastructure and replacement,” Sanders said. “We have teams that have deployed to assess the damage to infrastructure and are compiling an inventory of the degraded and destroyed assets in order to prioritize efforts for recovery and restoration. We understand the difficulties that Nebraska communities are experiencing and appreciate their patience.”
Vice President Mike Pence touched down in Eppley Airfield to tour the flooded areas on Tuesday, March 19. He was accompanied by Gov. Pete Ricketts, Sen. Ben Sasse and Rep. Don Bacon, along with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.
“Our hearts are with the victims and we are grateful to first responders and volunteers,” Pence tweeted on Tuesday.
As of Friday, March 15, over 30 counties were either fully or partially evacuated. In addition, Red Cross reported 721 people in the 13 Red Cross and partner shelters across Nebraska and Southwest Iowa.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture also put together a list of disaster relief resources for Nebraska farmers and ranchers seeking assistance, according to the news release.
Nebraska 211 is a resource hotline available for those needing to be connected with organizations that can assist with basic needs including food, shelter, health services, family services and employment support.
As of Monday, March 18, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency reported that the hotline received approximately 217 calls regarding shelter.
On Tuesday, March 12, Gov. Pete Ricketts declared a state of emergency, involving the blizzard in the west and the flooding.
“We are going to be far over what we need to be to declare that. We’ve got bridges out and levees broken, lots of roads, utilities and everything,” said Ricketts.
On Tuesday, Ricketts signed and submitted Nebraska’s expedited request to the federal government for disaster assistance. The request will be considered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s regional office and headquarters.
“We have not had a disaster that has been this widespread in the state, I don’t think, ever. We’ve had disasters where we’ve had a greater loss of life. But as far as how many places have been touched by this, I don’t think there’s ever been a disaster this widespread in Nebraska,” Ricketts said.
President Trump addressed the disaster on Friday, March 15, tweeting, “The people of Nebraska and across the Midwest, especially the farmers and ranchers, are feeling the impacts from severe weather. The first responders and emergency response teams have done a great job dealing with record flooding, high winds and road closures.”
According to the NEMA news release there were 65 counties under emergency declarations at one point, which is nearly 70 percent of the state’s 93 counties.
NEMA’s website is continually updating information to answer the many questions on resources available.