Historic floods that killed 4 and displaced hundreds force 74 Nebraska cities to issue emergency declarations

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 3/19/2019, 10:38 a.m.
The major flooding that left at least four dead in Nebraska and Iowa over the past week is slowly receding ...
The major flooding that left at least four dead in Nebraska and Iowa over the past week is slowly receding in some areas, but rivers likely will be flooded for days more.

By Christina Maxouris, CNN

(CNN) -- The major flooding that left at least four dead in Nebraska and Iowa over the past week is slowly receding in some areas, but rivers likely will be flooded for days more, and additional rain and melting snow are expected to make flooding worse in other parts of the Plains and Midwest.

More than 8 million people were under flood warnings Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said, as the heartland deals with the aftermath of snow melt and a "bomb cyclone" that blasted the central Plains and Upper Midwest last week with heavy rain or snow.

Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin have declared states of emergency.

The flooding in Nebraska has been especially widespread, with Gov. Pete Ricketts calling it the "most widespread disaster we have had in our state's history."

Vice President Mike Pence is expected to travel Tuesday to Nebraska to tour areas devastated by record-breaking flooding.

Flood records have been shattered in 17 places across the state, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said. Seventy-four cities, 65 counties and four tribal areas have issued emergency declarations in the Cornhusker State.

Impact in damages in the millions

On Monday, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler requested a disaster declaration from the governor after flooding in a city well field caused power outages, spurring officials to ask 284,000 residents to restrict their water usage.

Bryan Tuma, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said the Red Cross is so far operating nine shelters, which are housing more than 470 people. Twenty-nine counties had mandatory or voluntary evacuations, 18 of which have now allowed their residents to return.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services also warned the flooding may have contaminated private water supplies, adding wells should be tested to ensure safety.

"Cloudiness or a change in taste or smell are signs of possible contamination," said Sue Dempsey, administrator of the department's Drinking Water Program. "If there is any indication that the water supply has been breached by floodwaters, even without noticeable changes in taste or smell, I encourage residents to get a water sample kit for testing."

Meanwhile, Nebraska has already seen a $205 million impact on its public sector from the floods, the emergency management agency said. The state's private sector has seen a $60 million impact.

Ricketts said Monday the state has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other officials "to get emergency disaster declaration declared, and tap into those federal resources for public assistance and individual assistance."

Flooding could worsen in parts of the heartland

Two major factors led to the heavy flooding: a bomb cyclone that dropped heavy rain from March 13 into late last week, and melting ice and snow. The rain, in some cases, dropped onto snowpack and frozen ground that weren't able to absorb the downpour.

The rain and melting snow overwhelmed rivers and streams.

Water levels were dropping in Nebraska and Iowa on Tuesday, but flooding may get worse elsewhere in the coming days.