Sasse: Next step for Nebraska is getting temporary flood protections in place

Sasse: Next step for Nebraska is getting temporary flood protections in place
World-Herald News Service

The view from high above Nebraska’s damaged infrastructure tells U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., that it’s going to be a long haul to rebuild both temporary and long-term flooding protections.

Sasse, who flew around eastern Nebraska with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday morning, said at a press conference later that one of the Army Corps officials said the Missouri River levee system looks like Swiss cheese with all the breaches and holes from the powerful floodwaters.

“Their view is lots and lots of … breaches are big enough that there are no repairs of certain levees — you’re going to have to tear them down and rebuild them from the foundations back up,” Sasse said at Riverview Community Church in Ashland. The church is serving as a donation distribution center; flood victims can stock up on supplies including fans, mops, bleach, granola bars, diapers and cat food.

Areas hard hit by flooding are just getting out of the rescue and recovery phase now, Sasse said. The next phase — getting some flood protections back into place — will have to kick into gear soon.

“Phase 2 is how do you get a temporary system of flood protections back into place for the next few months, because thunderstorms in Nebraska in the summer create flash floods all the time,” he said.

Phase 3 will involve longer-term decisions about what investments to make in damaged infrastructure, he said.

“What we ultimately rebuild will be bigger and better in the long term, but there’s going to be a whole bunch of prioritization decisions that have to be made along the way,” Sasse said.

That includes residents in flood-prone areas, who may have to decide whether to rebuild or relocate, what kind of flood insurance they need and whether they’re satisfied with local levee protection.

Also, washed-out roads and bridges are creating anxiety for farmers and ranchers.

“You have a lot of farmers and ranchers who are already thinking now about harvest next fall — how are they going to be able to get crops and livestock to market when a lot of the roads don’t exist?” Sasse said.

Sasse said he also met with Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert to discuss options for the city’s Papillion Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was shut down March 15 as waters rushed over the levee there. The plant, which processes wastewater for 600,000 Douglas and Sarpy County residents, is still nonoperational and wastewater is being discharged into the Missouri River.

Some Nebraskans can now apply for state and federal flood assistance. Here’s how to get started

Nebraskans in nine counties who have been impacted by the recent flooding can now apply for assistance from the state and federal government.

Homeowners and renters in Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington Counties who were impacted by flooding, severe winter storms and straight-line winds that began March 9 can apply for federal disaster assistance.

President Donald Trump declared a major disaster for the State of Nebraska on Thursday. The declaration opens the door to federal aid to help state, tribal and local recovery efforts.

Gov. Pete Ricketts had requested the declaration earlier in the week.

More counties may be added to list as more of the damage is assessed.

The assistance can include help with temporary repairs to homes, paying for a short-term place to live while repairs to homes are being made and help with other disaster-related needs not covered by other programs.

Applicants should do the following steps to start seeking assistance:

>> Report your damage to your local emergency manager

>> Call your insurance agent

>> Document your damage with photos or video and make lists of damaged items

> Register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362

FEMA will need the applicant’s current address, the address of the damaged property, contact information, social security numbers, makeup of the applicants household, insurance and income information.

A press release from the agency said people should register even if they have insurance. Applicants should not wait until settling with their insurance provider to register.

Here’s the full how-to from FEMA and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency:

Impacted by Recent Flooding? Here’s how to Apply for Help

‘We’ll make this base even better’: Air Force secretary commits to reconstruct flood-battered Offutt

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson gave an ironclad commitment to reconstructing flood-ravaged Offutt Air Force Base after a briefing and tour Friday with local political and military leaders.

“The U.S. Air Force will rebuild Offutt Air Force Base,” Wilson said during a short press conference after the tour. “We’ll make this base even better than it was a week and a half ago.”

That was before massive floods on the nearby Missouri and Platte Rivers broke one levee just south of Offutt and overtopped another, turning the southeastern third of the base into a giant bathtub. Thirty occupied buildings, including the 55th Wing headquarters and two large aircraft maintenance hangers, were swamped with 2 to 8 feet of muddy water, and one-fourth of the 2-mile-long runway was submerged.

“It was quick,” said Col. J. David Norton, the 55th Wing’s top engineer. “When they say ‘flash flood,’ they’re not kidding.”

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.; and Col. Michael Manion, the 55th Wing commander; joined Wilson for the tour.

She saw that the water had pulled back completely from the runway, taxiway and apron, though several feet of water remain in an area with several fuel tanks and in the airfield’s grassy infield. Assessment teams were also able to re-enter 20 of the 30 inundated buildings by the end of the day. About 3,200 of the base’s almost 10,000 workers have had to work in temporary quarters since the flood.

Though a full damage assessment hasn’t been made yet, Drew Nystrom, a 55th Wing spokesman, said the damage would certainly be in the “tens of millions” of dollars.

Wilson said she would work with Fischer and Bacon to secure whatever funds are needed to rebuild the base. She said the $130 million runway reconstruction project, scheduled to begin this fall, would also continue. She said engineers will be coming in shortly to assess the condition of the runway and taxiways to see if any changes need to be made.

”We’ll work with the delegation to make sure when the runway is built in really good shape for the long haul,” she said.

“Hopefully we’ll get this done quickly,” Fischer said.

Manion said the Nebraska National Guard allowed some of the 55th Wing’s displaced aircraft to move to its facilities at the Lincoln Airport.

”The airmen of this Wing are extremely resilient,” he said. “We were able to regenerate and start flying training sorties again on Wednesday out of Lincoln thanks to our National Guard partners.”

Though the floods came within 100 yards of the U.S. Strategic Command hilltop headquarters, StratCom continued with a worldwide exercise called Global Lightning 19.

StratCom is scheduled to move into its new $1.3 billion headquarters — which also remained clear of floodwaters — at the end of the year, clearing the way for the 55th Wing to take its place.

“We’re going to figure out some way to move faster into this building, so (55th Wing) can use our building,” said Gen. John Hyten, StratCom’s commander.

Wilson rewarded six military and civilian personnel who aided in the 30-hour effort to hold back the floodwaters last weekend, giving them military “challenge” coins. Although the flood couldn’t be stopped, she said their efforts to move equipment above or away from the water likely prevented millions of dollars worth of damage.

”When things went really wrong here a week ago, Nebraskans really helped Offutt Air Force Base,” she said. “And that says something about the neighborliness of Nebraskans that really matters to the United States Air Force.”

Sarpy County residents of lake communities return to flooded homes for the first time

Residents of three Sarpy County lake communities along the Platte River were allowed back into their homes Friday, a week after evacuating.

People with houses or cabins at Betty, Chris and Hanson’s Lakes lined up Friday morning outside the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office. Because of the hazards still present in the neighborhoods, the Sheriff’s Office is requiring homeowners or renters to fill out paperwork proving that they live in the area before residents are allowed limited access to their homes.

People were evacuated from the Hanson’s Lakes area about 2:30 a.m. March 15. Waters rose so high that one couple said their neighbor saw a pontoon boat on someone’s roof.

“We have two docks, and one of them is a floating dock,” said Sharon Sysel, who lives on Hanson Lake 2. “That’s gone. It’s in the lake. We don’t know where it is.”

The Sysels were fortunate. Their house is high on a hill and has no basement. While a neighbor has water just a few inches shy of overflowing their basement, the Sysels’ house is dry.

Julie Thiele thinks her cabin on Hanson Lake 3 may be a loss. Drone footage from a neighbor showed water up to her roof.

“We’ve had three floods since we’ve been there, and it has never come past our fire pit,” she said. “We and all the neighbors put everything 4 feet up, and we laughed as we did it. We thought, ‘There’s no way.’

“It wasn’t high enough.”

Even Friday, Thiele said, a drone showed her water was 2 or 3 feet high in her cabin. “I’m not even sure if I can get into it,” she said.

Fortunately, the cabin is not her main home — she lives in Papillion.

A few members of her family plan to start work Saturday by punching holes in the drywall to air out the walls. Then they will start stripping out the cabin and seeing what’s left to save.

“Everyone is just going to pass around their helpers and we’re going to get it done,” she said.

At one point, Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis said, about 25 propane tanks were floating in the area. Davis said he was told that it could take six to eight weeks before people could return to their homes, but receding waters and a massive cleanup effort cut that time down to just a week.

The private recreation areas at Olivo Lake and Schmid Park are open to property owners, Sarpy County officials said Friday. Vencil’s Island, Linoma Beach, Thomas Riverside Acres, Sands Trailer Court and Riha Lakes remain inaccessible, officials said.

From water in the basement to total loss: Platte River communities assess damage

A partially filled bottle of Tanqueray gin floated on the surface of the waist-deep water in Tom Strigenz’s basement. Cloudy water lapped at the seat cushions of a leather couch.

A musty odor covered the smell of a small electrical fire that sparked over the weekend.

“I’m happy because it went down three inches today,” the Sarpy County public defender said earlier this week, surveying the 4 feet of water still in the basement of his Hawaiian Village residence.

People who populate the towns and small lake communities along the Platte River west and south of Omaha were taking stock of their homes and futures this week. Some of the properties are second homes or summer getaways, but just as many are full-time residences, from small mobile homes to comfortable villas.

Some people were making temporary housing plans and filing claims with their insurance companies. Others were still unable to access their residences as of Thursday, making long-term planning impossible.

By noon last Friday, the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office had issued an evacuation notice for all communities that touched the Platte or Missouri Rivers, including Beacon View, Sands Trailer Court, Thomas Riverside Acres, Villa Springs, Betty Lake, Chris Lake, Hanson Lakes and La Platte.

Some of those communities were still blocked by water Thursday. Officials were planning to open Chris Lake, Betty Lake and Hanson Lakes to credentialed residents on Friday.

Access to some areas remained blocked Thursday because they were either underwater or cut off by water: Vencil’s Island, Lake Olivo, Schmid Park, Sands Trailer Court and Riha Lakes.

Officials said Thomas Riverside Acres will open once repairs on Ruff Road are completed.

It isn’t yet clear exactly how many people along the river have been affected by the flooding. When Sarpy County issued the blanket evacuation notice to river communities last Friday, officials said the area included 2,600 people.

Jackie Morehead, chief deputy Sarpy County assessor, provided a preliminary count of 1,700 parcels of land along the river that were not simply empty lots, but some of the properties on those parcels probably avoided flood damage.

“It’s mostly guesswork” at this stage, Morehead said.

Strigenz said his home, where he lives with his wife, Mandy, is the fourth- or fifth-lowest in Hawaiian Village, about 5 miles south of Papillion. About 5:30 a.m. Saturday, he saw that water had come around a dike and into the community. Later that morning, he went down to check the basement.

“That’s exactly when the water started to come up the drain,” he said.

They were able to move some stuff upstairs, but many items — Christmas decorations and creations from when their children were young — were claimed by the floodwaters. At its height, the water reached above a fireplace mantel.

The basement itself, remodeled over the summer, will need a another face-lift.

The Strigenzes planned to sign a 3-month lease on an apartment while their home is uninhabitable. In the meantime, they were staying in a Papillion hotel along with many of their neighbors. They’ve found some humor amid the chaos.

“We’re calling it Hawaiian Village north right now,” Strigenz said of the hotel.

Elsewhere in the county, residents of the Paradise Lakes community east of Offutt Air Force Base had yet to be allowed back to their homes as of Wednesday.

Carlos Moreno lived in one of the rental homes with his cousin, his cousin’s wife and three roommates. He had left with friends Friday night to go to a birthday party, several hours after law enforcement knocked on doors in the area, alerting residents of the evacuation.

When Moreno returned about 2 a.m., the road had been closed. He considered walking through the floodwater, but it was too cold.

“That’s when we realized it was going to be bad,” said Moreno, 24.

Waiting to take a hot shower Wednesday at Calvary Christian Church, an American Red Cross site, Moreno said he didn’t know the condition of his home until he saw a video on social media posted by the Bellevue Police Department.

There, on screen, was his house, water nearly touching the roof. His Ford Focus, for which he has only liability insurance, was submerged.

“We lost everything,” he said.

The Bellevue Police Department has been using boats and drones to monitor the Paradise Lakes area every day since the flooding began, checking on businesses and homes and ensuring that no victims were missed.

When the floodwaters were at their high point over the weekend, officers could steer their boats over the roofs of some of the Paradise Lakes homes. Fresh off a boat patrol of the area Wednesday morning, Sgt. Larry Lampman said much of the community is devastated.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “Most of the stuff is not salvageable.”

Back at Hawaiian Village, across the street from the Strigenz home, Jeff and Teresa Drelicharz, along with a small crew of friends and family, were busy gutting their basement this week.

The Drelicharz home sits a few feet higher than the Strigenz’s, so their basement took on less than 2 feet of water, which had receded over the weekend .

As soon as the water had ebbed away from the home, they got to work tearing out drywall and insulation, ripping up carpet and setting up fans and a dehumidifier.

Amazingly, two fish tanks holding African and South American cichlids survived, even after the water temperature dipped to the low 40s when the home didn’t have power. Jeff Drelicharz brought in generators to power the tanks, fans and furnace.

He bought the land for their Hawaiian Village home on the same day that historic flooding began in 1993, so he altered the construction plans to make the home sit a little higher, thinking that he would best any future flooding.

It didn’t work out.

But Drelicharz can only shrug.

“We knew what we got into when we moved here,” he said.

All lanes of Highway 36 open

Nebraska Highway 36 leading into Fremont now has all lanes open, with no pilot car or flaggers, the Nebraska Department of Transportation said in a tweet Friday night.

“Hwy 36 between hwy 275 & hwy 31 all lanes open no longer reduced to one lane with pilot car & flaggers,” the transportation department said in the tweet.

That stretch of Highway 36 has been closed due to flooding.

Game and Parks will accept volunteer help to clean parks

Individuals or groups who want to volunteer may notify Game and Parks at outdoornebraska.gov/volunteer. The commission asks the public to not clean up on its own, but instead work with the agency as it identifies projects and resources available.

Game and Parks continues to assess damage at parks and other areas, but the full impact of the flood on Nebraska’s state park system is not yet known. A list of parks that are closed, partially closed or accessible only by alternate routes is available on the Commission’s website at outdoornebraska.org/weatherclosures.

As waters recede and reopening dates are set for specific parks, announcements will be posted at outdoornebraska.org.

The public is also urged to stay off rivers affected by flooding because currents, inadequate bridge clearance and submerged debris make it dangerous.

Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry units to arrive Saturday in Bellevue, Fremont

Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry units are  scheduled to be in Bellevue and Fremont on Saturday.

The units will be collecting laundry to do for free from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at: Walmart Supercenter, 3010 E. 23rd St. in Fremont; and Bellevue Christian Center, 1400 Harvell Drive in Bellevue.

The laundry will be open to flood victims and people helping to respond until a collective 300 loads are reached (two per household). The team also will be distributing personal care and cleaning kits.

Lincoln lifts voluntary water restrictions

Mayor Chris Beutler lifted the voluntary water use restrictions late Friday afternoon. Lincoln Transportation and Utilities Director Miki Esposito said one of the city’s large horizontal wells is now in operation and production capacity has increased to 60 million gallons a day.

Historic flood damage at the city’s water production facilities along the Platte River led the city to impose mandatory water restrictions Sunday. The voluntary restrictions have been in place since Wednesday.

Lincoln Water System provided a preliminary estimate of $15 to $17 million in repair costs. Officials said the preventive flooding assistance from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, National Guard and other emergency responders helped to minimize damage during the flood.

The city will seek reimbursement of up to 75 percent of repair costs that are eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a result of the federal disaster declaration for the State of Nebraska.

Rain expected this weekend

Rain that’s expected to fall Saturday into Sunday could cause some minor increases in river and stream levels in the Omaha area, the National Weather Service said Friday.

“It looks to be a gradual rainfall for the most part,” said weather service meteorologist Brian Barjenbruch, who predicted about half an inch total accumulation. “But it doesn’t take much to cause issues.”

Missouri River levels at Rulo, Nebraska, were down to around 27 feet Friday morning after peaking at 28.14 feet Wednesday evening. At St. Joseph, Missouri, the river hit 31.45 feet Friday morning, just below the record of 32.1.

Highs Saturday and Sunday are expected to be in the low 50s.

The Valley office of the weather service tweeted that staffers are moving back into their building after being chased out by rising floodwaters last week. Barjenbruch said the water didn’t get in the building.

No wait needed to dispose of dead livestock 

Livestock producers do not need to wait for approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency before disposing of dead animals, the Nebraska Joint Information Center announced Friday.

Producers are advised to take photos and keep detailed records of the animals they dispose of. For further information on animal disposal, refer to the disposal of animal carcasses guidance at deq.ne.gov/Publica.nsf/Pages/06-201 and call the Department of Agriculture at 1-800-831-0550.

Friday, the Nebraska State Patrol tweeted a video of the Missouri River near Nebraska City:

Lakeside residents get back in their homes

Residents of three Sarpy County lake communities along the Platte River were allowed back into their homes Friday, a week after evacuating.

People with houses or cabins at Betty, Chris and Hanson Lakes lined up Friday morning outside the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office. Because of the hazards still present in their neighborhoods, the Sheriff’s Office is requiring homeowners or renters to fill out paperwork proving that they live in the area before residents are allowed limited access to their homes.

Displaced postal customers need to fill out forms

Postal customers who have evacuated their homes or relocated because of flooding need to submit a change of address, place a “hold” request on their mail or ask that mail be temporarily forwarded to their new location.

To sign up for available forwarding and change of address services, stop at a post office or go to usps.com and click the “Manage Your Mail” tab.

Archbishop to tour flood-damaged areas

Omaha Archbishop George Lucas was to be at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Fremont on Friday afternoon to review the volunteer resource center there and and then to tour flood-damaged areas in the community.

In addition to the resource center, World Central Kitchen has set up an operation in the church. Volunteers there are making and delivering more than 1,000 meals a day, the archdiocese said.

Repairs set to start Friday on Union Dike

Repair work was to begin Friday on the Union Dike on the Platte River near Valley, which was breached last week by floodwaters.

The Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract of $929,500 for an emergency levee breach repair.

Much of the area’s levee system remained compromised because of record flows, the corps said.

As of noon Friday, 47 levee breaches had been confirmed, including in Douglas, Sarpy and Otoe Counties in Nebraska; south of Council Bluffs, south of Glenwood and in and near Fremont County, Iowa; and in Atchison County, Missouri, the corps said.

Buffalo County residents to get help

People who live in Buffalo County who were affected by the recent flooding are encouraged to attend the Buffalo County Flood Assistance “One Stop” from noon to 7 p.m. Monday.

The event will be held at Gibbon Baptist Church, 705 Court St., in Gibbon.

Volunteers and staff from local organizations and nonprofit agencies will be available to help flood victims fill out paperwork and explain different types of assistance that is available.

The event is being coordinated by the Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska in cooperation with such organizations as the American Red Cross, Buffalo County Emergency Management, Department of Health and Human Services, Gibbon Area Relief Fund, Greater Kearney Area Community Organizations Active in Disasters, Kearney Area Community Foundation, Nebraska Veterans Administration, Salvation Army, Two Rivers Public Health Department and United Way of the Kearney Area.

Free legal help available

Free legal help is available for low-income flood survivors in Nebraska through Nebraska Legal Aid’s Disaster Relief Project.

It’s crucial that people know their legal rights and the benefits and resources available to them, the group said.

The free assistance is available through both online resources and a network of trained volunteer lawyers across Nebraska.

People affected by flooding in the state can go to disaster.legalaidofnebraska.org for more information.

Food replacement, energy assistance available for some disaster victims

Flood- and blizzard-impacted Nebraskans who use assistance programs administered by Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services may be eligible for additional food, energy and heating assistance.

SNAP Replacement

Those who have lost food purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits due to flooding, including power outages, can get reimbursement for the amount of the loss, up to their monthly allotment. Determine the value of the lost food and then visit a local DHHS office or call ACCESSNebraska at 800-383-4278.

Disaster SNAP

Residents of Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington Counties who are not currently enrolled in SNAP but need assistance with food due to flooding or power outages may be eligible for funds through the Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP) program.

DHHS economic assistance team members will be processing applications for D-SNAP at locations in those counties beginning Wednesday. Application sites will be announced before that date.

Although there are income limits for the program, eligibility also is based on home repair needs, temporary shelter expenses, evacuation or relocation, home or business protection, disaster-related personal injury and loss, and reduced or delayed income. Anyone in the nine counties impacted by the flood is encouraged to apply.

Energy Assistance — LIHEAP

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds can be used in certain crisis situations involving home energy needs resulting resulting from natural disasters — utility reconnection costs; repair or replacement costs for furnaces and air conditioners; insulation repair; crisis payments for utilities and utility deposits; and purchase of fans, air conditioners and generators.

For more information, or to apply for LIHEAP, contact DHHS by visiting a local office or calling ACCESSNebraska at 800-383-4278.

Other Assistance

To apply for other assistance programs, such as Medicaid, Aid to Dependent Children, Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled, Respite, Child Care Provider Natural Disaster Recovery and Emergency Assistance, go to ACCESSNebraska.

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