Current flooding in Nebraska, Iowa rivals most devastating years as multiple rivers flood

Current flooding in Nebraska, Iowa rivals most devastating years as multiple rivers flood
World-Herald News Service

Update, 5 a.m.: A few rivers have hit record levels overnight as National Weather Service meteorologists caution that water levels will continue to rise for the next several days.

Thankfully, no additional moisture is expected in the coming days that will add to the totals, other than a low chance of snow Monday night, said weather service meteorologist Dave Eastlack.

“We’re probably not going to see some kind of receding until mid- or late next week,” he said. “Fortunately, we have dry conditions on tap.”

Overnight, the Missouri River at Plattsmouth hit a record high of 37.15 feet, surpassing the previous high of 36.73 feet in 2011. The Platte River at near Leshara reached 12.23 feet, beating the last historical crest of 11.84 feet.

Also early Friday morning, Sarpy County officials announced that residents in the Sands Trailer Court and the south side of Hanson Lake #2 near La Platte Road U.S. Highway 75 should seek higher ground. Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Bellevue Fire Department workers went door to door around 3:45 a.m. to ask people to evacuate.

Eastlack stressed that motorists should not drive through water, for their own safety and to avoid tying up first responder resources.

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Historic flooding in Nebraska and Iowa has claimed at least one life, flooded an unknown number of towns and cut off communities — and the worst could still be ahead.

Major flooding remains possible on the Missouri, Elkhorn and Loup Rivers, said David Pearson, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

These rising river levels mean the unthinkable is possible: that 2019 could be the year that two terrible flood years — the devastating flooding on the Elkhorn River in 2010 and the record-shattering flood of 2011 on the Missouri River — wrap into one.

“The 2011 flooding was probably one of the bigger disaster events in our history. I think we can safely say … this event rivals it,” said Bryan Tuma, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

The frightening nature of the flooding, felt from one end of the state to the other, became all too real Thursday night. According to emergency dispatch and Twitter reports, at least one boat with firefighters capsized as they were trying to rescue people in Dodge County near the Elkhorn River. Numerous helicopters were called to assist. Seven people were taken to the hospital apparently suffering from hypothermia, at least one in critical condition, according to 911 dispatch reports. That firefighter may have been in the water for an hour or more.

Here’s a look at what lies ahead, and the devastation already wrought:

Numerous water rescues; some people hospitalized
In Missouri Valley, Iowa, two residents were taken to the local hospital in critical condition after being exposed to frigid waters during water rescues, said Mayor Shawn Kelly.

Kelly said crews from several agencies had performed about a dozen water rescues Thursday, helping people stranded in vehicles or in their homes in areas where they were told to evacuate.

Also on Thursday, a volunteer firefighter working on a rescue in the Waterloo area developed hypothermia after he got a hole in his wet suit, said Chief Dan Olsen, joint incident commander for the disaster response effort in the metro area.

At least one fatality, at least one person missing

One person is known dead and another is missing, according to Nebraska emergency managers.

At Shell Creek near Columbus, a farmer drove a tractor out to assist a motorist who was stuck in floodwaters and was swept away and died, Tuma said.

A person may have been swept away when the Spencer Dam collapsed on the Niobrara River.

When the 91-year-old concrete structure dam failed, it washed away a popular straw-bale tavern, a bait shop, a half-dozen camper vehicles and a home. A man who lived in the home was missing.

“It looks like there was never anything there,” said Paul Allen, 75, whose ranch is downstream of the dam.

A quarter-mile section of U.S. Highway 281 washed out just south of the bridge over the Niobrara River. At the Allen ranch, floodwaters 4 to 5 feet deep inundated pastures and livestock pens, Allen said, scattering cattle.

Communities flooded, evacuated

Water rescues continued into the evening Thursday as numerous riverside homes and communities took on water.

Earlier in the day, a significant portion of Norfolk was evacuated. More than 1,000 Norfolk residents were staying at the city’s five shelters Thursday.

And like countless other communities, officials urged citizens to seek higher ground voluntarily so as to not overtax local resources.

“I’m telling you, if you’re told to evacuate, please evacuate. If you choose to stay where you’re at, you’re on your own,” said Shane Weidner, Norfolk’s public safety director.

Weidner said the Elkhorn River was reaching the record levels seen in 2010, and it may get worse.

In Washington County, Sheriff Mike Robinson also called on people to evacuate.

“My advice to anyone living along the Missouri River or along any other rivers or streams is to evacuate now,” Robinson said Thursday.

Firefighters rescued after boat capsizes while attempting a rescue near Arlington

Two boats with five firefighters and two drivers capsized Thursday night as they were trying to rescue people in Dodge County near the Elkhorn River.

Numerous helicopters were called to assist at the scene southwest of Arlington, the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office said.

All seven rescuers were taken to Methodist Fremont Health to treat hypothermia, with at least one in critical condition, according to 911 dispatch reports. That firefighter may have been in the water for an hour or more.

The injured firefighters had been heading to a home southwest of Arlington, where a family was stranded in their home near Elkhorn River.

The family called 911 Thursday night about 7 p.m. to say their home was surrounded by water and the basement walls were starting to collapse.

Fremont and Cedar Bluffs Fire Department rescuers headed there in two airboats and about 9 p.m., both boats capsized. Two National Guard helicopters took the rescuers to the hospital about about 10 p.m.

After the firefighters were pulled from the water, rescuers re-attempted the family’s rescue, this time by helicopter.

The family refused to be transported, officials said. No additional information was available early Friday morning about the condition of the home or residents.

‘I’ve never seen anything close to this’: Rancher describes harrowing evacuation near collapsed Spencer Dam

LINCOLN — The phone rang at Paul Allen’s ranch house along the Niobrara River at 6 a.m. It wasn’t good news.

Five miles upstream, the Spencer Dam — a 91-year-old concrete structure — had “been compromised,” and a wall of water was heading his way.

Just below the dam, a popular tavern, built of straw bales, was washed away, as was a bait shop, a half-dozen campers and a home. One man who lived in the home was missing.

“It looks like there was never anything there,” said Allen, 75.

A quarter-mile section of U.S. 281 was washed out just south of the bridge over the Niobrara River. At the Allen ranch, floodwaters 4 to 5 feet deep inundated pastures and livestock pens, he said, tipping over stock trailers, flowing into farm sheds and tractors, and scattering cattle.

“It’s not good. We don’t have no clue how many cows we lost yet, or equipment or machinery,” he said.

Luckily, the ranch house and a cabin where his son’s family lived were on higher ground, farther away from the Niobrara River. By 10:30 a.m or so, volunteer firefighters from Lynch and neighbors arrived. Allen said they used heavy, four-wheel drive tractors to drive through the floodwaters and then four-wheel drive pickups, to evacuate the two families, including two young children, ages 6 and 2.

By noon, family members were staying with a neighbor, waiting for the floodwaters to subside, waiting to see what was left.

“I’ve never seen anything close to this,” he said. “I’ve seen water come within a foot of coming over the banks of the river, but never anything like this. Never.”

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