Government

Kim Reynolds: 'It looked like an ocean' - Deadly Midwest floods devastate Western Iowa communities

A parcel of land along the Platte River is inundated Tuesday by floodwaters, pictured in this aerial photograph at La Platte, south of Omaha, Neb. (Photo by Drone Base for Reuters)
A parcel of land along the Platte River is inundated Tuesday by floodwaters, pictured in this aerial photograph at La Platte, south of Omaha, Neb. (Photo by Drone Base for Reuters)
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BROWNVILLE, Neb. — Vice President Mike Pence arrived Tuesday to survey with Iowa and Nebraska officials the devastation unleashed across the Midwest by floods that have killed at least four and caused more than a billion dollars in damage to crops, livestock and roads.

Floodwaters have inundated a large swath of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska along the Missouri River, North America’s longest river, prompting more than half of Iowa’s counties to declare states of disaster.

”Touched down in Omaha, Nebraska to survey flood damage & thank volunteers & emergency personnel,” Pence said on Twitter, in a post that included photos of him meeting with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, along with lawmakers including Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.

“The hearts of the American people are with those who have been impacted across the Midwest!” Pence wrote.

Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin all have declared states of emergency in the floods, which stem from a powerful winter hurricane known as a “bomb cyclone” that slammed into the Farm Belt last week, killing untold numbers of livestock, destroying grains and soybeans in storage, and cutting off access to farms because of road and rail damage.

The latest confirmed death was identified by the sheriff in Fremont County, Iowa, as 55-year-old Aleido Rojas Galan, who was pulled from floodwaters along with another man Friday and later died.

Reynolds, who had toured the Iowa damage earlier also, at a news conference Tuesday expressed her admiration for Iowans’ resiliency and assured people facing the calamity that her administration is doing all it can to provide help.

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“It’s hard to really describe the devastation that we witnessed. It looked like an ocean,” she said. “It’s just unbelievable, and that’s people’s lives. Those are fifth-generation farms, those are businesses, communities.”

Reynolds said she has asked for a federal disaster declaration as well, and she said she is confident Iowa will qualify.

“This is all hands on deck: federal, state and local,” she said.

Authorities said they had rescued nearly 300 people in Nebraska alone. Rescuers could be seen in boats pulling pets from flooded homes. Some roadways crumbled to rubble, while sections of others were submerged.

In Hamburg, Iowa, floodwaters covered buildings. In Brownville, Neb., floodwaters lapped at the edge of the town of 132 people, closing the main bridge across the Missouri River.

“It’s a lot worse than I’ve ever seen it,” said Malina Wheeldon, who went ahead with the scheduled opening of her new Euphoric Soul Salon & Boutique business despite the floods. Her husband, Justin, who grew up in Brownville, said he had lived through floods of 1993, 2010 and 2011.

“About every five years now, we have a 100-year flood,” he said.

Nebraska officials estimated more than $1 billion in flood damage for the state’s agricultural sector so far, according to Craig Head, a vice president at the Nebraska Farm Bureau.

The water also covered about a third of Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, home to the U.S. Strategic Command, whose responsibilities include defending against and responding to nuclear attacks.

Reynolds warned more flooding could be on the way as the spring thaw is just beginning.

But she also praised the spirit of many Iowans she has met as they hope to bounce back.

“They’ve not lost their fight, and they don’t know how to give up,” she said. “They are and we are still in the fight.”

Reuters and Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.

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