Communities assess damage from catastrophic Midwest flooding

Jessie Higgins
Gov. Pete Ricketts and Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, the adjutant general for the Nebraska National Guard, conduct an aerial observation of the historic flooding conditions in portions of northeast Nebraska on March 15. With rain and snow in the forecast, hundreds are being forced to evacuate as a statewide emergency was declared. Photo by Senior Airman Jamie Titus/Nebraska National Guard
Gov. Pete Ricketts and Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, the adjutant general for the Nebraska National Guard, conduct an aerial observation of the historic flooding conditions in portions of northeast Nebraska on March 15. With rain and snow in the forecast, hundreds are being forced to evacuate as a statewide emergency was declared. Photo by Senior Airman Jamie Titus/Nebraska National Guard | License Photo

EVANSVILLE, Ind., March 22 (UPI) -- Catastrophic flooding across the Midwest is decimating entire regions -- wiping out roads and bridges, destroying homes and buildings, killing livestock, and rendering useless millions of acres of farmland.

The National Weather Service has predicted the flooding to worsen in the coming weeks, much of it from melting snow and ice. As the flooding spreads, the number of disaster declarations continues to grow.


Here is a breakdown of the flood's impact by state:


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President Donald Trump on Thursday declared a major disaster in Nebraska, making federal money available for recovery on one of the hardest-hit states.

A blizzard had hit the state in early March, freezing the rivers and dumping up to 2 feet of snow. Snow and ice still were on the ground March 12 when a "bomb cyclone" hit that area. It dumped several inches of rain - and melted all the snow.

The ensuing flood was record-smashing.

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"The magnitude of this is hard to comprehend," said Steve Nelson, the president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau. "The flood has covered 70 percent of our state."

The water burst through dozens of levees and dams, forcing thousands to evacuate -- including the staff at several hospitals. Three people were killed. At least one nuclear power plant shut down as a precaution. The National Guard coordinated with other state agencies to rescue the stranded and deliver food and potable water to the newly homeless.


The state estimates the damage to infrastructure and private property at around $500 million. That number is expected to increase as the full extent of thatdamage is realized.

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To prepare for the flood, Nebraska farmers moved livestock to what had historically been safe ground, Nelson said. In many cases, it wasn't high enough. Thousands of cattle and other livestock were killed, and more are expected to die from lack of food and potable water.

"We had some forewarning that flooding was expected," said Talia Goes, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Beef Cattlemen's Association. "I don't think anyone was prepared for the amount of flooding we got."

The state estimates cattle farmers have lost around $400 million - a figure that is expected to go up once the damage can be fully assessed, Goes said.

Corn, soy and other grain growers suffered similar losses -- and estimated $440 million. The flood destroyed millions of dollars of stored grains and saturated fields, which many farmers predict will make them unsuitable to plant in the coming year.


Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday requested that President Trump grant disaster declarations in 57 counties.

The flood will cost the state an estimated $1.6 billion, Reynolds said in her request. That includes $781 million in damage to private property, $525 million to levees and $214 to agriculture.


The same storm systems that created the Nebraska flooding did so in Iowa. Across the state, residents evacuated inundated towns and rural areas. Roads were wiped out. Grain, corn and soybean stores were lost and fields were saturated.

In one county, Fremont, 28 farmers lost a total of 390,000 bushels of stored soybeans and 1.2 million bushels of stored corn from the 2018 crop, said Jeff Jorgenson, an Iowa corn and soy grower. The value of that lost grain is $7.3 million. It was not insured.

The flood will likely impact the 2019 growing year, as well. It's unlikely the saturated fields will dry in time for farmers to plant.

"There's a lot of this land that will not be touched this year just because it will not dry out," Richard Crouch, the chairman of the Mills County Emergency Management Commission in Iowa, told the Des Moines Register. "It's going to take years for it to come back to a natural use on account of the amount of sand and debris that's left on it."


As the flood waters recede in Nebraska, they are worsening in Missouri, where upstream reservoirs and melting snow on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers bring more water.


Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday declared a state of emergency.

"The rising floodwaters are affecting more Missouri communities and farms, closing more roads and threatening levees, water treatment plants and other critical infrastructure," Parson said in a statement.

The declaration came after Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers spent Wednesday rescuing people from homes in Craig after a levee failed, according to a news release. Three people also were rescued from a stranded boat.

About a dozen people already had evacuated from Mound City. On Friday, more communities along the Missouri river were evacuated.


Like Missouri, Kansas communities also are seeing increased flooding as the waters roll down the Missouri River.

Flash flood warnings covered many communities on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri stateline, and several towns were evacuated as a precaution.

South Dakota

South Dakota residents - already hit with flooding from the March 12 storm -- are bracing for more flooding this weekend.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed an emergency declaration March 15. Days later, a National Weather Service alert predicted more flooding will arrive in parts of South Dakota this weekend or early next week.

"Flooding is not a matter of if, but when," Noem said in a statement. "These levels will impact homes, businesses, roads, and farms. It's important that those living in the Big Sioux River Valley start their flooding preparations now."


The flooding has already wiped out roads and other infrastructure.

Farms are also impacted, though to a lesser extent than areas in Nebraska, the state's former secretary of agriculture Walt Bones told KDLT News in Sioux Falls.

"We've got enough terrain -- hills and stuff -- to get our livestock above (the floods)," Bones told the station. "You look at folks in Nebraska, where it's really flat, and the livestock had nowhere to go."

But that does not mean farmers were not impacted. As in other regions, grain stores have been ruined, and fields are underwater.

Additionally, it is calving season in much of the Midwest. Calves need to be put to pasture soon after they are born to keep them healthy, Bones said.

"If you confine them too long, as soon as one gets sick, they all get sick," Bones said. "So we try and get them out so they can run in the pastures so they can get dry and warm. And it's just been a challenge because we can't get there with our trailers."


Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency March 15, as residents in Green Bay and elsewhere evacuated their homes. However, flood waters had receded by Sunday, allowing residents to return home, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.


Moderate flooding continues across the state, and the Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center continues to monitor water levels.

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