Public Safety

Midwest flooding spreads southward

Missouri now in sights of overflowing river

Flooded farm fields are seen this week from an aerial photo taken while Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers used a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to deliver bales of hay to cattle isolated by historic flooding in Richland, Neb. As the flooding moves downstream, forecasters do not think it will be as severe as already seen in Iowa and Nebraska because the floodwaters have breached levees — thereby lessening the force of the river in Missouri and beyond. Lisa Crawford/Nebraska National Guard)
Flooded farm fields are seen this week from an aerial photo taken while Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers used a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to deliver bales of hay to cattle isolated by historic flooding in Richland, Neb. As the flooding moves downstream, forecasters do not think it will be as severe as already seen in Iowa and Nebraska because the floodwaters have breached levees — thereby lessening the force of the river in Missouri and beyond. Lisa Crawford/Nebraska National Guard)
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s governor declared a state of emergency Thursday as floodwaters that left a swath of destruction across Iowa and Nebraska surged downstream, swamping small towns, roads and farmland in the Midwest.

Flooding triggered by last week’s “bomb cyclone” storm already has inflicted damage estimated at nearly $1.5 billion in Nebraska and perhaps $1 billion in Iowa and killed at least four people.

“The rising floodwaters are affecting more Missouri communities and farms, closing more roads and threatening levees, water treatment plants and other critical infrastructure,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “We will continue to work closely with our local partners to assess needs and provide resources to help as Missourians continue this flood fight and as we work to assist one another.”

The declaration allows resources and assistance to be provided directly to counties and municipalities that need aid to deal with worsening flood conditions locally.

Public safety officials have said continued flooding of the Missouri River in the days ahead is unlikely to reach the widespread, catastrophic scale seen in parts of Nebraska and Iowa — partly because much of the excess flow has dissipated through levee breaches upstream that have left less water in the river’s channel.

But the extensive flooding seen in Nebraska and Iowa was forecast to continue in the wider region through May and become more dire in coming weeks as water flows downstream, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said.

“This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk,” Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., said Thursday in the agency’s spring outlook.

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Floodwaters already have swamped a large swath of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa along the Missouri River. A state of emergency has been declared in all or parts of the three Midwestern farm states.

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President Donald Trump on Thursday approved a federal disaster declaration for Nebraska, making more federal funding available.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this week said Iowa has asked for a federal declaration also, and was confidant the state would qualify.

More rain is in the forecast for the coming days for the area, exacerbating the situation.

“This isn’t over,” said David Roth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center. He added the Missouri River will see more major flood crests over the next week.

The river’s next major flood crest is forecast to hit St. Joseph, Mo., at 6 a.m. today and a day later in Kansas City, Mo.

The Missouri empties into the Mississippi River, potentially threatening several other Midwestern and Southern states, including Arkansas and Louisiana.

About 200 people voluntarily evacuated from the small city of Winthrop and the Lewis and Clark Village in Buchanan County, Mo., after an area levee was breached Thursday, said emergency management coordinator Bill Brinton.

“These people may get flooded two or three times over the next month or so,” he said.

Howard Geib, 54, owns a farm near the town of Craig in Holt County, Mo., which ordered a mandatory evacuation Wednesday. Geib said a levee near his farm broke over the weekend, and he saw at least 10 levees in the county that have broken.

“There are 600-, 700-, 1,000-foot-long holes in the levees,” he said Thursday.

More than 2,400 homes and businesses in Nebraska have been destroyed or damaged, with 200 miles of roads unusable and 11 bridges wiped out, according to authorities.

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The governor, Pete Ricketts, thanked Trump for his federal disaster declaration as Nebraskans prepared to recover from what he called “the most widespread natural disaster in our state’s history.”

Ricketts estimated the floods caused at least $439 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, and $85 million to privately owned assets. He put flood damage for the state’s agricultural sector at nearly $1 billion.

Mark Hamilton, a 59-year-old retired military officer, has lived in a mobile home in Arlington, Neb., for the last 23 years but was forced to flee when it flooded. He said he lost his house, motorcycle and truck at a cost of about $150,000.

“We’ve had floods nine, 10 years ago but it was nothing like this,” Hamilton said. “That entire trailer park needs to be removed now, nobody can live there.”

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