Nebraska, Iowa communities hit by devastating flood damage. Here’s what you need to know Saturday – Omaha World-Herald

As floodwaters continued to devastate parts of the state on Friday, communities north and northwest of the Omaha metro area were hit with more damage.

Flooding has already been blamed for at least one death and two people are believed to be missing as of Friday afternoon. About a dozen injuries have been reported, including two first responders.

Homes are underwater and roads impassable. People displaced by the waters have taken shelter in hospitals, schools and other community buildings.

Residents across the region were being evacuated as levees break or rivers overflow their banks.

Full or partial evacuations had taken place in at least 31 Nebraska communities, including Cedar Rapids, Beemer, Plattsmouth, Valley and West Point.

Columbus (the state’s 10th largest city) had only a blacktop road to get in or out. And after Douglas County said Q Street was closed, that left Valley (home of the Valmont plant, evacuated as a precaution) inaccessible by road. In one hopeful sign, an evacuation order was lifted in eighth largest Norfolk, allowing residents to return to their homes and businesses.

Rita Argintean was one of many residents at a Valley assisted living center who was preparing to evacuate.

The 84-year-old had survived two prior floods in Valley, but was not sticking around for the third. “I hate ’em,” she said. “It’s horrible.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts characterized the flooding as the worst in 50 years.

Eastern Nebraska is probably a couple days away from river levels that will allow people to breathe easy, said David Pearson, National Weather Service hydrologist.

Even though the Elkhorn River was cresting Friday and was beginning to drop, and even though the Platte appeared to be cresting, there was no let-up in the danger, he said.

“The situation remains dangerous and it will remain that way until we see a significant drop,” he said. “This is not like a river dropping in a normal flood. This is like going from extreme to normal extreme.”

There is room for a sliver of optimism, though, and that is a decline in the amount of ice in the Platte. “It is much better,” he said.

 As the Platte dumps massive amounts of water into the Missouri River, it has pushed that river to record levels.

“Levees are overtopping, that’s already happening,” he said. “It’s not a question of if they’re going to over top. The condition is only going to get worse.”

To check out current flooding conditions, click here. To see raw video and photos of the massive flooding around the state, click here.

Water overtopping levies near Ashland draws evacuation calls

Communities north of Ashland were being encouraged to evacuate Friday night after water began overtopping levies, though there was not an immediate threat.

The Ashland Fire Department reported that water was spilling over levies near the communities of Wann and Big Sandy.

“We are issuing a ‘highly advisable’ evacuation to these areas to be proactive,” the department wrote on Facebook.

Water levels at the nearby Thomas Lakes had fluctuated throughout the day Friday but had not risen in the final hours of Friday.

Access to the communities remained open late Friday.

As of midnight Friday, crews had stopped monitoring water levels to rest.

Rescues include adults, children, dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and a rabbit

Douglas County tweeted some good news Friday: “Here are today’s rescue numbers as of 9:40 p.m. Those numbers will go up and we can’t thank our Unified Command and the first responders enough for their incredible efforts.” 

The numbers: 112 adults, five children, 53 dogs, five cats, one rabbit, two birds and two hamsters.

Red Cross help available

The American Red Cross is working with 10 shelters in Nebraska and southwest Iowa to help those displaced from their homes because of flooding.

Those shelters:

Salem United Methodist Church, 14955 Somerset Ave. in Council Bluffs; Calgary Baptist Church in Glenwood, Iowa, Rand Community Center in Missouri Valley, Iowa; East Central District Health Department and Columbus Federated Church, both in Columbus, Nebraska; Elkhorn Middle School in Elkhorn; First Lutheran Church and Trinity Lutheran Church, both in Fremont; Pierce High School in Pierce, Nebraska; and Wood River High School in Wood River, Nebraska.

The Red Cross advises evacuees to bring essentials, including prescriptions and emergency medications; foods for unusual dietary requirements; identification showing residency in an affected area and important personal documents; extra clothing, pillows, blankets, hygiene supplies and comfort items; supplies needed for infants and children, such as diapers, formula and toys; and needed items for the elderly or disabled.

Gifford Farm animals possible flood victims

Several animals at Bellevue’s Gifford Farm were unaccounted for Friday afternoon after floodwaters overtook the outdoor educational center east of Fontenelle Forest. The animals’ deaths haven’t been confirmed, according to Kelly Taylor, office manager for the farm — some employees are hoping the animals found higher ground or went deeper into the nearby forest — but it’s possible they perished in the waters.

Rapidly rising river levels Friday were of concern across Sarpy County, which was declared to be in a state of emergency Wednesday. The Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office urged residents near the Missouri and Platte Rivers to evacuate their homes. The evacuation zone included about 2,600 people.

Cass County lake community asked to evacuate

Residents living around Lake Waconda, a privately-owned lake immediately adjacent to the Missouri River near Union, Nebraska, have been asked to evacuate, said Sandy Weyers, director of emergency management for Cass County.

Flooding closes Offutt runway and swamps Ashland military training base

Offutt’s lone runway has been closed until 1 p.m. Tuesday, according to a notice to airmen issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. In addition, for the second time in four years, the Guard’s Camp Ashland, on the banks of the Platte River east of Ashland, has been swamped by floodwaters. 

Flood emergency declared for western Douglas County; residents, weather service evacuate

The National Weather Service issued the alert mid-morning Friday and called for people to evacuate the area immediately, saying flash flooding is imminent.

The National Weather Service office in Valley, which has been providing critical information on the evolving flood situation, itself was evacuating. The weather service office in Hastings, Nebraska, has taken over.

Officials suspect that there is an ice jam somewhere that has backed up the river, said weather service meteorologist Taylor Nicolaisen.

Increases Friday morning put the river level at 21.55 feet. Major flood stage is considered 21 feet. The river level was expected to hit 24 feet later in the day.

Stothert signs disaster declaration; Wastewater plant closed 

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said Friday she had signed a local disaster declaration because of damage from severe flooding, high winds and rains since March 11 in hopes of accessing emergency funds “from all available sources.”

Flooding also led the City of Omaha to close the Papillion Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant on Friday morning.

While the plant is shut down, wastewater will go into the river without being treated. On average, the plant treats 65 million gallons of wastewater each day.

People should avoid going into the Missouri River near and downstream from the Papillion Creek.

The city’s other wastewater treatment plan remains open.

Multiple agencies rallying to help flood victims, first responders in Nebraska and Iowa

Ricketts calls flooding worst in 50 years

“This is probably the most widespread flooding damage we’ve had in the last half-century,” he said in a press conference at the Norfolk airport Friday morning. “Even when we were away from the water system, we saw that the fields were very saturated.”

Ricketts toured the Platte and Loup Rivers by helicopter with the Nebraska National Guard and after a short stop in Norfolk, planned to survey the Elkhorn River.

Cooper Nuclear Station preps for shutdown

The Nebraska Public Power District is preparing to shut down the Cooper Nuclear Station as the Missouri River approaches a critical mark of 45.5 feet. As of Friday afternoon, the river was nearly 45 feet deep near Brownville.

If the plant does go into shutdown mode, spokesman Mark Becker said he doesn’t anticipate any damage to the nuclear components of the facility.

Sarpy County officials encourage residents along Platte River, Missouri River to evacuate

​The Missouri River has breached a levee between Offutt Air Force Base and Plattsmouth, near the area of Harlan Lewis Road and La Platte.

Sarpy County Sheriff’s deputies saw that the Platte River was out of its north bank and forcing water over Cottonwood Road in Villa Springs, which is southeast of Springfield.

Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis strongly encouraged residents living in the areas bordering the Missouri or Platte Rivers to evacuate immediately to avoid being trapped. A Gavins Point Dam release and flooding in central Nebraska is affecting water levels in Sarpy County.

Officials said that it may appear to people who live in an area that borders those rivers that the water might not reach them. However, water can and has been washing over surrounding roadways, cutting off the ability to enter and exit living areas.

Access to Fremont blocked due to road closures

U.S. Highway 275 between Omaha and Fremont is closed, according to the Nebraska State Patrol. U.S. Highway 77 north and south of the city is closed, as is U.S. Highway 30 west and east of town, said Lottie Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the city.

Those closures remained in effect late Friday.

The southwest portion of the city is still under a voluntary evacuation, Mitchell said, as nearby levees have not yet been breached.

Also Friday, Dodge County officials were urging residents of North Bend, which is about 15 miles west of Fremont, to evacuate.

Evacuated Norfolk residents allowed to return home; Water receding in Columbus

Norfolk officials were breathing a sigh of relief Friday after water levels dropped several feet overnight, allowing nearly a third of the city to return to their homes and businesses.

The person who went missing during flooding in Norfolk Thursday is still missing. Officials said the search is ongoing. 

Floodwaters were retreating in Columbus on Friday afternoon. Platte County emergency manager Tim Hofbauer said water had dropped by about a foot and had dropped by significantly more upstream on the Loup River.

Hofbauer said several bridges over Shell Creek failed and that there are no direct routes into or out of Columbus as of Friday afternoon.

Raw footage: Video, shocking photos show floods ravaging Nebraska, Iowa

Nebraska rivers hit record levels

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.

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.

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

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects the Missouri River at Omaha to crest at 33.7 feet by Sunday, but City of Omaha officials said the river is not expected to compromise the 13 miles of levee it controls.

The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is closed because of flooding on the Council Bluffs side of the bridge.

Numerous water rescues; some hospitalized in Missouri Valley, Iowa

In Missouri Valley, Iowa, two residents were taken to the local hospital in critical condition after being exposed to frigid waters during water rescues.

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.

At least one fatality, two people missing and some hospitalized

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, said Bryan Tuma, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

The farmer was later identified as Columbus farmer James Wilke. When he learned that rising flood waters had stranded a motorist along a nearby country road early Thursday, he fired up his tractor and went to help in spite of the wind and rain.

Guided by volunteer first responders, Wilke set off down Monastery Road and across the bridge over Shell Creek.

But the bridge collapsed under the tractor’s weight, throwing the 50-year-old into the flood-swollen creek. After a frantic search by neighbors, his body was found downstream about nine hours later, near his own farm.


Firefighters rescued after boat capsizes during rescue attempt 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.

Nebraska roads submerged

Flooding has severely impacted travel in areas surrounding the Omaha metro area and in northeastern Nebraska.

The Highway 34 bridge across the Missouri River north of Plattsmouth was closed late Friday morning due to a levee break. The road was closed from Highway 75 to the east, near the Sarpy and Cass County border.

Most state highways in north-central and northeast Nebraska also have some closures because of flooding.

Click here to see the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s live map.

In Iowa, Interstate 29 is closed and has detours in place because of flooding. I-680 between the Mormon Bridge and I-29 also is closed.​

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Emergency lines open around the state

The Nebraska State Patrol Highway Helpline is available 24 hours per day for motorists in need of assistance. Drivers can reach NSP by dialing *55 from any cell phone or 911 in an emergency.

​Shelters are open across Nebraska, and all told, they’re serving about 700 people. For more on agencies rallying to help flood victims and first responders, click here.

World-Herald staff writers Alia Conley, Kelsey Stewart, Chris Peters, Erin Grace, Blake Ursch, Steve Liewer, Nancy Gaarder, Reece Ristau, Susan Szalewski and Roseann Moring contributed to this report, which includes information from the World-Herald News Service.