Exclusive: More than 1 million acres of U.S. cropland ravaged by floods

Justin Mensik, corn and soybean farmer, attends to his cattle at his farm in Morse Bluff, Nebraska, U.S. March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk

By P.J. Huffstutter and Humeyra Pamuk

CHICAGO/COLUMBUS, Neb. (Reuters) – At least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of U.S. farmland were flooded after the “bomb cyclone” storm left wide swaths of nine major grain producing states under water this month, satellite data analyzed by Gro Intelligence for Reuters showed.

Farms from the Dakotas to Missouri and beyond have been under water for a week or more, possibly impeding planting and damaging soil. The floods, which came just weeks before planting season starts in the Midwest, will likely reduce corn, wheat and soy production this year.

“There’s thousands of acres that won’t be able to be planted,” Ryan Sonderup, 36, of Fullerton, Nebraska, who has been farming for 18 years, said in a recent interview.

“If we had straight sunshine now until May and June, maybe it can be done, but I don’t see how that soil gets back with expected rainfall.”

FILE PHOTO: Paddocks at Washington County Fairgrounds are shown underwater due to flooding in Arlington, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk -File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Paddocks at Washington County Fairgrounds are shown underwater due to flooding in Arlington, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk -File Photo

Spring floods could yet impact an even bigger area of cropland. The U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned of what could be an “unprecedented flood season” as it forecasts heavy spring rains. Rivers may swell further as a deep snowpack in northern growing areas melts.

The bomb cyclone of mid-March was the latest blow to farmers suffering from years of falling income and lower exports because of the U.S.-China trade war.

Fields are strewn with everything from silt and sand to tires and some may not even be farmed this year. The water has also destroyed billions of dollars of old crops that were in storage, as well as damaging roads and railways.

Justin Mensik, a fifth-generation farmer of corn and soybeans in Morse Bluff, Nebraska, said rebuilding roads was the first priority. Then farmers would need to bring in fertilizer trucks and then test soil before seeding, Mensik said.

The flood “left a lot of silt and sand and mud in our fields, now we’re not too sure if we’re going to be able to get a good crop this year with all the new mud and junk that’s just laying here,” Mensik told Reuters.

CORN CONCERN

For farmers, “the biggest concern right now is corn planting,” said Aaron Saeugling, an agriculture expert at Iowa State University who does outreach with farmers. “There is just not going to be enough time to move a lot of that debris.”

To be fully covered by crop insurance, Iowa farmers must plant corn by May 31 and soybeans by June 15, as yields decline dramatically when planted any later. Deadlines vary state by state. The insurance helps ensure a minimum price farmers will receive when they book sales for their crops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecast on Friday farmers would increase corn plantings by 4.1 percent from last year, but the estimate did not account for the flooding.

Nearly 1.1 million acres of cropland and more than 84,000 acres of pastureland in the U.S. Midwest had flood water on it for at least seven days between March 8 and March 21, according to a preliminary analysis of government and satellite data by New-York based Gro Intelligence at the request of Reuters. The extent of the flooding had previously not been made public.

The flooded acreage represents less than 1 percent of U.S. land used to grow corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, cotton, sorghum and barley. In 2018, some 240 million total acres of these crops were planted in the United States, USDA data shows.

Iowa, the top U.S. corn and No. 2 soy producing state, had the most water, covering 474,271 acres, followed by Missouri with 203,188 acres, according to Gro Intelligence. That was in line with estimates given to Reuters this week by government officials in Iowa and Missouri.

Gro Intelligence used satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Near Real-Time Global Flood Mapping product, to calculate the approximate extent and intensity of flooding.

Gro Intelligence then identified how much of this area was either cropland or pastureland, according to data from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Gro Intelligence analysts cautioned the satellite imagery did not show the full extent of flooding in Nebraska, where officials declined to provide acreage estimates to Reuters, or in North Dakota. Nebraska’s governor has said the floods caused agricultural damage of $1 billion in his state.

Cloud cover or snow on the ground makes it difficult to identify the flood waters in NASA satellite data, said Sara Menker, chief executive of the agricultural artificial intelligence company.

LOST CATTLE

In Missouri, floodwaters covered roughly 200,000 acres in five northwest counties adjoining the Missouri River as of Wednesday morning, said Charlie Rahm, spokesman for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Columbia.

In Wisconsin more than 1,000 dairy and beef animals were lost during winter storms and 480 agricultural structures collapsed or damaged, according to an email from Sandy Chalmers, executive director of the Wisconsin state office of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

In the Dakotas and Minnesota, melting snows in coming months will put spring wheat planting at risk. Gro Intelligence found nearly 160,000 acres have already been flooded in Minnesota.

“That’s yet to come and we will deal with that at least until the middle of April,” said Dave Nicolai, an agriculture expert at the University of Minnesota.

(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago and Humeyra Pamuk in Nebraska; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek and Karl Plume in Chicago; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Simon Webb, Matthew Lewis and James Dalgleish)

After devastating flooding, U.S. Midwest farms need more than ‘paper towels’ to recover

A combination of aerial photos show the farm of Richard Oswald near Langdon, Missouri after flooding March 20, 2019 and in the fall of 2018 at right. Courtesy of Richard Oswald/Handout via REUTERS.

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Missouri farmer Richard Oswald needs a lot of help to recover from flooding that left his home and farm looking like a manmade island in an inland sea.

Relief groups are giving tetanus shots and handing out free meals and cleaning supplies near his farm in the Langdon-Rock Port area, about 100 miles (161 km) northwest of Kansas City. But what Oswald really needs is money.

Hit by the worst flooding in living memory, he and thousands of other farmers along the Missouri River will each require hundreds of thousands of dollars in disaster funds or loans to start over.

“The typical response on flood relief is groups like the Red Cross show up with paper towels and rubber gloves and scrub buckets,” said Oswald, 69, who does not expect to be able to get to his home or land for weeks. “The biggest thing farmers need is cash, or ways to access funds.”

‘BOUNCE BACK’

Slammed by a trade war and low commodity prices, Midwest family farms have been in the red and in decline for the last five years. The number of U.S farms fell by 100,000 between 2010 and 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.

Thousands more will now go under without emergency financial support for flooding, pummeling heartland economies almost entirely dependent on agriculture, farmers and aid groups said.

It is a call federal and state agencies, as well as non-governmental and faith-based relief groups are answering.

President Donald Trump has approved disaster declarations for Nebraska and Iowa, making federal disaster funding available in flood-hit areas. Missouri Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency, paving the way for similar actions in his state.

“I know we aim for bringing everything back up to where it was,” said Rosalynn Days-Austin, a USDA emergency coordinator helping direct Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) efforts in flood-affected areas. “Sometimes that’s not always possible, for a variety of reasons, but the goal is definitely to help them bounce back from their loss.”

CASH PREFERRED

Relief groups like Farm Aid are tending to the immediate needs of farmers, distributing tens of thousands of dollars in “emergency grants” – $500 gifts from cash donations that help families pay for things like groceries. After that, the group and its partners advise farming families on how to access federal disaster funds they hope are coming soon.

“What we’re hearing, because of the snowpack and rain and the wet ground, is that farmers are going to be dealing with this throughout the spring. So we’re in it for the long haul,” said Jennifer Fahy, a spokeswoman for the group established by country singer and activist Willie Nelson.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is coordinating a long-term response to get displaced families housed, navigate the red tape of insurance companies and federal agencies and tend to the mental health needs of people who have suffered extreme trauma, said Bishop Brian Maas.

“We have national partners and coalitions within the state,” said Maas, who is asking people to hold off donating more material goods, for now. “There will be stresses because we’ve not done anything of this magnitude.

“Now we have mountains of cleaning supplies and so forth that can’t be used,” Maas said, appealing to people to get back in touch in a month to see how they can donate then. “Cash is the most flexible way to respond.”

‘FEMA IS WORTHLESS’

Another immediate need is feed for livestock.

Relief organization Farm Rescue is collecting donations of hay in the Dakotas and trucking it to farmers whose cattle are starving after their feed stands were submerged in floodwater.

“I don’t know of anything this widespread that has ever affected so many people in our service area,” said Dan Erdmann, a spokesman for the group which helps family farms get through crises ranging from natural disasters to medical emergencies.

Farmworkers, some of them undocumented and legal migrants, have been hit hard. Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska is looking at housing assistance for displaced people who previously paid around $300 a month rent and now face rents triple that due to a dearth in properties, said Stacy Martin, chief executive of the social services charity.

While relief groups tend to urgent needs, farmers like Scott Olson say more federal relief money is needed at a time when low crop prices and high debt levels are limiting farmers’ access to credit. He is counting on a farm relief bill in Congress for extra disaster compensation after he successfully lobbied in Washington for similar funds following 2011 flooding.

“Flood insurance isn’t going to cover this worth a darn. FEMA is worthless,” said Olson, who farms 3,000 acres near Tekamah, Nebraska and runs a farm equipment business. “They don’t have any money, nobody has any money.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

Amid U.S. Midwest flooding, residents in Missouri, Kansas rush to fill sandbags

Buildings are submereged in floodwater in Bellevue, Nebraska, U.S., March 20, 2019, in this still imgage taken from social media. Bellevue (Nebraska) Police Department via REUTERS

By Karen Dillon

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Reuters) – Floodwaters that devastated swaths of Nebraska and Iowa rolled downstream along America’s longest river on Thursday, swamping more Midwestern farmland as waterfront communities in Missouri and Kansas hurried to shore up strained levees.

Flooding of the Missouri River triggered by last week’s so-called “bomb cyclone” storm has already inflicted damage estimated at nearly $1.5 billion in Nebraska, killed at least four people in Nebraska and Iowa and left a man missing below Nebraska’s collapsed Spencer Dam.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency for his state as high water forced evacuations of several small farm communities. Larger towns from St. Joseph to Kansas City braced for additional flooding forecast through the weekend.

“The rising floodwaters are affecting more Missouri communities and farms, closing more roads and threatening levees, water treatment plants and other critical infrastructure,” Parson said in a statement.

A truck is submereged in floodwater in Bellevue, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019, in this still imgage taken from social media. Bellevue (Nebraska) Police Department via REUTERS

A truck is submereged in floodwater in Bellevue, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019, in this still imgage taken from social media. Bellevue (Nebraska) Police Department via REUTERS

The declaration allows state resources and assistance to be provided directly to counties and municipalities in need, said Mike O’Connell, spokesman for the Missouri Public Safety Department.

Authorities say continued flooding in the days ahead is unlikely to reach the widespread, catastrophic scale seen in Nebraska and Iowa – as excess flow dissipates along the length of the river and water breaches or flows over the tops of levees.

But the threat of extensive flooding lingers over the wider region through May and could grow dire in coming weeks with additional rainfall and melting snow runoff, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said on Thursday.

“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, Alabama, said on Thursday in the agency’s spring outlook.

Scientists said on Thursday that climate change played a hand in the deadly floods, while a Trump administration official said more study was needed before making that link.

LEVEE BREACHES

Floodwaters have already swamped large stretches of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa, drowning livestock and damaging crop land along the Missouri. A state of emergency has been declared in all or parts of the three Midwestern farm states.

The river’s next major flood crest is forecast to hit St. Joseph, Missouri, early Friday morning and a day later in Kansas City, Missouri, 55 miles (90 km) to the south.

With no more rain forecast until next weekend, authorities hope flood levels will abate. Still, the inundation has strained the system of dams and levees built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the region.

More than 40 levee breaches have been confirmed in the agency’s Omaha district, encompassing the hardest-hit parts of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, officials told a news briefing.

A herd of cattle isolated by historic flooding across the state is seen in this aerial photo taken during Operation Prairie Hay Drop, where Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers used a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to deliver hay to isolated group of cattle in Richland, Nebraska, U.S., March 20, 2019. Courtesy Lisa Crawford/Nebraska National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

A herd of cattle isolated by historic flooding across the state is seen in this aerial photo taken during Operation Prairie Hay Drop, where Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers used a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to deliver hay to isolated group of cattle in Richland, Nebraska, U.S., March 20, 2019. Courtesy Lisa Crawford/Nebraska National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Nine more instances of levee breaches and spillovers have occurred farther downstream in Missouri and Kansas, including one near St. Joseph that was last topped in 1993, said Jud Kneuvean, the Corps’ emergency management chief in Kansas City.

The disaster’s epicenter had shifted by Thursday to northwestern Missouri, where roughly 40,000 acres of farmland in Holt County alone was under water and a population of about 500 was at risk, Kneuvean said.

The Holt County farming town of Craig, home to about 250 people, was evacuated. So too were some 200 residents of Lewis and Clark Village in neighboring Buchanan County after a nearby levee failed, officials said.

In Forest City, downstream from Craig in Holt County, residents young and old hurried to fill sandbags to bolster their local levee, hoping to stave off disaster.

“This is our last line of defense,” South Holt County Assistant Fire Chief Bill Killin told area media.

TRUMP APPROVES FEDERAL FUNDING

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday approved a disaster declaration for Nebraska, making federal funding available in nine counties there that bore the brunt of last week’s floods.

More than 2,400 homes and businesses in Nebraska have been destroyed or damaged, with 200 miles (320 km) of roads unusable and 11 bridges wiped out, according to authorities.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts estimated the floods caused at least $439 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, and $85 million to private property. He put agricultural flood damage for the state at nearly $1 billion.

Mark Hamilton, 59, a retired military officer, has lived in a mobile home in Arlington, Nebraska, for the last 23 years but was forced to flee when it flooded. He said he lost his house, motorcycle and truck at a total 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.”

(Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

By Humeyra Pamuk, P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek

WINSLOW, Neb./CHICAGO (Reuters) – Midwestern farmers have been gambling they could ride out the U.S.-China trade war by storing their corn and soybeans anywhere they could – in bins, plastic tubes, in barns or even outside.

Now, the unthinkable has happened. Record floods have devastated a wide swath of the Farm Belt across Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and several other states. Early estimates of lost crops and livestock are approaching $1 billion in Nebraska alone. With more flooding expected, damages are expected to climb much higher for the region.

As river levels rose, spilling over levees and swallowing up townships, farmers watched helplessly as the waters consumed not only their fields but their stockpiles of grain, the one thing that can stand between them and financial ruin.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Tom Geisler, a farmer in Winslow, Nebraska, who said he lost two full storage bins of corn. “We had been depending on the income from our livestock, but now all of our feed is gone, so that is going to be even more difficult. We haven’t been making any money from our grain farming because of trade issues and low prices.”

The pain does not end there. As the waters began to recede in parts of Nebraska, the damage to the rural roads, bridges and rail lines was just beginning to emerge. This infrastructure is critical for the U.S. agricultural sector to move products from farms to processing plants and shipping hubs.

The damage to roads means it will be harder for trucks to deliver seed to farmers for the coming planting season, but in some areas, the flooding on fields will render them all-but-impossible to use.

The deluge is the latest blow for the Farm Belt, which has faced several crises in the last five years, as farm incomes have fallen by more than 50 percent due to a global grain glut. President Donald Trump’s trade policies cut off exports of soybeans and other products, making the situation worse.

Soybeans were the single most valuable U.S. agricultural export crop and until the trade war, China bought $12 billion worth a year from American farmers. But Chinese tariffs have almost halted the trade, leaving farmers with crops they are struggling to sell for a profit.

CORN AND SOYBEANS DESTROYED

As prices plummeted last year amid the ongoing trade fight, growers, faced with selling crops at a loss, stuffed a historic volume of grain into winding plastic tubes and steel bins. Some cash-strapped families piled crops inside their barns or outside on the ground.

Farmers say they are now finding storage bags torn and bins burst open, grain washed away or contaminated. Jeff Jorgenson, a farmer and regional director for the Iowa Soybean Association, said he has seen at least a dozen bins that burst after grains swelled when they became wet.

Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy, flood-soaked grain is considered adulterated and must be destroyed, according to Iowa State University.

Some farmers had been waiting for corn prices to rise just 10 cents a bushel more before making sales, which would earn them a few extra thousand dollars, Jorgenson said.

“That’s the toughest pill to swallow,” Jorgenson said. “This could end their career of farming and the legacy of the family farm.”

As of Dec. 1, producers in states with flooding – including South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois – had 6.75 billion bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat stored on their farms – 38 percent of the total U.S. supplies available at that time, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Iowa suffered at least $150 million in damage to agricultural buildings and machinery, and 100,000 acres of farmland are under water, said Keely Coppess, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Jorgenson surveyed more than two dozen local farmers to assess the damage and tallied about 1.25 million bushels of corn and 390,000 bushels of soybeans lost just in Fremont County, Iowa, worth an estimated $7.3 million.

EXTENT OF DAMAGE UNCLEAR

The record flooding has killed at least four people in the Midwest and left one person missing. The extent of damage is unknown as meteorologists expect more flooding in the coming weeks.

Early estimates put flood damage at $400 million in losses for Nebraska’s cow-calf industry and another $440 million in crop losses, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts told a news conference on Wednesday.

“The water came so fast,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. “We know our farmers didn’t have enough time to move all the cattle or empty all their grain bins.”

Multiple washouts and high water on BNSF Railway Co’s main lines have caused major disruption across parts of the Midwest, the company warned on its website. The flooding also has disrupted part of Hormel Foods Corp’s supply chain, the company told Reuters.

The roads are so bad that Nebraska’s National Guard on Wednesday will push hay out of a military helicopter to feed cattle in Colfax County stranded by floodwaters, Major General Daryl Bohac said. It is the first time in at least half a century that such an airdrop has been conducted, he said.

Cattle carcasses have been found tangled in debris or rotting in trees, while tractors and other expensive machinery are stuck in mud, unable to be moved. At Geisler’s farm in Winslow, Nebraska, two trucks and a tractor were seen buried in mud in wooden barns where water pooled.

“We should have been getting into planting for next season, but now all of our equipment is flooded and it’s going to take at least three to four weeks to bring back that equipment into shape,” said Geisler.

(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek in Chicago and Humeyra Pamuk in Winslow, Nebraska; Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen and Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by David Gaffen and Matthew Lewis)

Missouri River towns face deluge as floods move downstream

A flooded parcel of land along the Platte River is pictured in this aerial photograph at La Platte, south of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Drone Base

By Humeyra Pamuk

VALLEY, Neb. (Reuters) – A string of small Missouri towns prepared for the next deluge along the raging Missouri River on Wednesday after flooding wreaked nearly $1.5 billion in damage in Nebraska, killing at least four people and leaving another man missing.

High water unleashed by last week’s late-winter storm and melting snow has already inundated a large swath of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa along the Missouri River, North America’s longest river. States of emergency have been declared in all or parts of the three Midwestern farm states.

The Missouri River’s next major flood crest was forecast to hit St. Joseph, Missouri, at 6 a.m. on Friday and Kansas City, Missouri, 55 miles (88 km) to the south, about 24 hours later, said Mike Glasch of the Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Homeowners and businesses across Leavenworth County, Missouri, where 81,000 people were under a flood warning on Wednesday, were placing sandbags around property as they have watched the river rise over the last few days, Kim Buchanan, the county’s deputy director of emergency management, told Reuters.

“We have moderate flooding at this time,” she said, noting that the forecast shows the river cresting seven feet above flood stage on Thursday or Friday. “Anybody with river interest has already instigated their flood plans and have taken their defensive actions.”

FOUR DEAD

The floods killed four people in Nebraska and Iowa since last week, and officials warned the damage toll would rise as receding waters revealed more devastated roadways, bridges and homes.

A fifth man has been missing since the collapse of the Spencer Dam along the Niobrara River last. He was identified by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper as Kenny Angel.

Authorities said they had rescued nearly 300 people in Nebraska alone.

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit in flood waters after leaving casualities and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with waters yet to crest in parts of the U.S. midwest, in Peru, Nebraska, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Dillon

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit in flood waters after leaving casualities and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with waters yet to crest in parts of the U.S. midwest, in Peru, Nebraska, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Dillon

A levee break prompted the evacuation of the small community of Craig, Missouri. Real estate agent Jamie Barnes said everyone in town had time to get out before it was flooded, and water was now flowing south through farmland toward communities such as Forest City, Forbes and St Joseph.

“There’s just water as far as the eye can see, from bluff to bluff. In some places its five miles, in some 15,” Barnes said by phone.

Several other communities in that area of northwest Missouri have also been evacuated, the Army Corps of Engineers said at a briefing.

“Much of the levee system remains compromised, and as of noon Wednesday there are more than 30 total breaches across the system,” in the three states experiencing flooding, Lieutenant Colonel James Startzell, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District told the briefing.

AIR FORCE BASE FLOODED

“I was driving out to get one more load of corn from the bins when the levee broke, and there was a wall of water coming at me,” said Howard Geib, 54, whose farm is near Craig. “I was on the phone with my son-in-law, who was driving out to help, telling him, ‘Stop! Stop! Turn around!'”

The flooding killed livestock, destroyed grains in storage and cut off access to farms because of road and rail damage.

Across the Missouri from Craig, the village of Rulo, Nebraska, drew a small crowd of onlookers to see the deluge, said Kelly Klepper, owner of Wild Bill’s Bar & Grill.

“We’re kind of a tourist attraction right now,” Klepper said by phone.

Missouri emergency managers said they may be spared the worst of the flooding because of breaches further north.

“It’s really sad that we had a couple levies fail upstream, but that’s helped everyone downstream,” said Steven Bean of Kansas City’s emergency management agency.

But Bean said the kind of flooding hitting the Midwest is typically seen in June and July, after the final snow-melt and the spring rains.

“This is March, and we haven’t had the final snowmelt,” he said. “We haven’t had the spring rains. The reservoir is full. They have got to get it empty.”

More than 2,400 Nebraska homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged, with 200 miles (322 km) of roads unusable and 11 bridges wiped out, Governor Pete Ricketts said on Wednesday.

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.

Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, which houses the U.S. Strategic Command, remained heavily flooded, though base officials said on Twitter the facility was still “mission-capable.”

In Valley, Nebraska, outside Omaha, Pete Smock, 42, worked to clear deep mud surrounding his home and construction business.

“Devastation is everywhere. I haven’t seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Smock said. He had rented heavy equipment to fill deep holes cut by the floods with gravel and repair driveways leading to his office and garage.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, P.J. Huffstutter and Mark Weinraub in Chicago, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Andrew Hay in Taos, N.M. and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Alistair Bell)

Flooding will go on in storm-ravaged U.S. Midwest; $1 billion in damage, 4 dead

FILE PHOTO: A flooded parcel of land along the Platte River is pictured in this aerial photograph at La Platte, south of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Drone Base

(Reuters) – The flooding that devastated the U.S. Midwest is likely to last into next week, as rain and melted snow flow into Kansas, Missouri and Mississippi, the National Weather Service said.

Floods driven by melting snow in the Dakotas will persist even as Nebraska and Iowa dig out from storms that have killed four people, left one missing and caused more than a billion dollars in damage to crops, livestock and roads.

“It’s already not looking good downstream for the middle and lower Mississippi and Missouri (rivers) into Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri,” Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center, said early Wednesday.

The floodwaters have inundated a swath of Iowa and Nebraska along the Missouri River, North America’s longest river. Half of Iowa’s 99 counties have declared states of emergency.

“That snowpack is still there and it’s going to keep melting, and that’s bad news,” Oravec said.

About an inch of rain is predicted for Saturday in the region, Oravec said. “It’s not a lot, but any precipitation is bad right now.”

Vice President Mike Pence toured some of Nebraska Tuesday and promised to help expedite federal help to the region.

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit in flood waters after leaving casualities and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with waters yet to crest in parts of the U.S. midwest, in Peru, Nebraska, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Dillon

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit in flood waters after leaving casualities and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with waters yet to crest in parts of the U.S. midwest, in Peru, Nebraska, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Dillon

Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin and Mississippi all declared states of emergency after the floods, which stemmed from a powerful winter hurricane last week. The flooding killed livestock, destroyed grains and soybeans in storage and cut off access to farms because of road and rail damage.

Authorities said they had rescued nearly 300 people in Nebraska alone, with some rivers continuing to rise. Rescuers could be seen in boats pulling pets from flooded homes. Some roadways crumbled to rubble and sections of others were submerged. In Hamburg, Iowa, floodwaters covered buildings.

$1 BILLION IN DAMAGE

Nebraska officials estimated flood damage for the state’s agriculture at more than $1 billion so far, according to Craig Head, vice president of issue management at the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Head said that was likely to grow as floodwaters recede.

“It’s really too early to know for sure how bad this is going to get. But one thing we do know: It’s catastrophic for farmers,” said Matt Perdue, government relations director for the National Farmers Union. “We’re hoping it’s only $1 billion, but that’s only a hope.”

Nebraska officials estimate the floods have also caused $553 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, and $89 million to privately owned assets, according to the state’s Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday.

The water covered about a third of Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, home to the U.S. Strategic Command, whose responsibilities include defending against and responding to nuclear attacks.

The Army Corps of Engineers is distributing 400,000 sandbags to operators of 12 levees along the Missouri River in Missouri and Kansas that are threatened by flooding, the Army Corps said in a news release on Tuesday.

Roads leading to the Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper nuclear plant near Brownville were engulfed by floodwaters from the Missouri, but the facility was still operating safely at full power on Tuesday.

The plant operator was flying staff members and supplies to the plant by helicopter, power district spokesman Mark Becker said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Karen Dillon in Brownville, Neb., Gina Cherelus in New York, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, P.J. Huffstutter and Mark Weinraub in Chicago and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Larry King)

Isolation, evacuations in U.S. central Plains as floods kill three

Flooded Camp Ashland, Army National Guard facility, is seen in this aerial photo taken in Ashland, Nebraska, U.S., March 17, 2019. Picture taken March 17, 2019. Courtesy Herschel Talley/Nebraska National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Flooding that killed three people in the central plains of Nebraska and Iowa has cut roads to a nuclear power plant and inundated a large portion of a U.S. Air Force base, forcing it to work with a skeleton staff on Monday, while more of region’s residents possibly faced evacuation.

The floods, which have prompted each state’s governor to declare a state of emergency, are the result of last week’s “bomb cyclone” winter storm, a winter hurricane that blew in from the western Rocky Mountains. Three people died in the flooding and at least one person was missing after hundreds of weekend rescues.

Flooded Camp Ashland, Army National Guard facility, is seen in this aerial photo taken in Ashland, Nebraska, U.S., March 17, 2019. Picture taken March 17, 2019. Courtesy Herschel Talley/Nebraska National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

Flooded Camp Ashland, Army National Guard facility, is seen in this aerial photo taken in Ashland, Nebraska, U.S., March 17, 2019. Picture taken March 17, 2019. Courtesy Herschel Talley/Nebraska National Guard/Handout via REUTERS

The floodwaters forced the operators of the Cooper nuclear plant, near Brownville, Nebraska, to fly in staff and supplies by helicopter, and covered one-third of that state’s Offutt Air Force Base, near Bellevue, home to the U.S. Strategic Command. The nuclear plant continued to operate safely and was at full power, its operator said.

The National Weather Service reported that some of the region’s larger rivers were running at record highs above flood level, causing levy breaks. Some small towns and communities have been cut off by floods while others have seen fresh drinking water become scarce. Floodwaters destroyed many homes and businesses over the weekend.

The NWS reported that temperatures across the hardest-hit areas will reach above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C) through midweek and exceed 60 Fahrenheit by Friday. That would speed the pace of snow melt across the region and contribute water to already swollen rivers, the NWS said, possibly forcing evacuations in communities along the Missouri River on the Nebraska and Iowa border, as well as along the Elkhorn and Platte rivers in Nebraska.

“There could be issues across portions of Nebraska and Kansas for the next seven days,” NWS meteorologist Jim Hayes said.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, who declared a statewide emergency last week, said on Monday that emergency officials have rescued about 300 people but that at least one person was missing.

At Offutt Air Force Base, 30 buildings had been flooded by up to 8 feet (2.4 m) of water and 30 more structures had been damaged, according to reports by the Omaha World-Herald, citing a base spokeswoman. Base officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The flooding covered 3,000 feet of the base’s 11,700-foot runway, the World-Herald reported.

The weather was blamed for three deaths, including one person who died at home after failing to evacuate, and a man swept away while trying to tow a trapped car with his tractor.

In Iowa, one man died after he was submerged in floodwaters on Friday in Riverton, according to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds also issued an emergency proclamation at the outset of the flooding.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone)

Spring weather to bring more floods to waterlogged U.S. Plains states

Highway 281 is seen damaged after a storm triggered historic flooding, in Niobrara, Nebraska, U.S. March 16, 2019. Office of Governor Pete Ricketts/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – The U.S. Central Plains states could face more flooding this week as rising temperatures accelerate snow melt across the region, weather forecasters said Monday.

Floods in the aftermath of a late-winter storm that dumped snow and rain on the nation’s midsection last week have already killed two people and destroyed homes and businesses.

“The good news is that apart from some very light rain tonight, this will be generally a dry week across the region,” said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Weather Prediction Center.

“But we’re in a warming trend. Slightly above average springtime temperatures means more water from snowmelt is going into already flooded river basins,” Oravec said.

Temperatures across the hardest-hit areas of Nebraska and Iowa will be reach highs in the low 50 degrees Fahrenheit through midweek and into the 60s by Friday, he said.

Water levels are expected to rise through the week, according to the NWS, prompting evacuations in communities along the Missouri River on the Nebraska and Iowa border, as well as the Elkhorn and Platte rivers in Nebraska.

Flooding is not expected to abate until at least midweek in the Plains and Midwest region, the NWS reported.

“The big ones (rivers) are at record stages right now,” Marc Chenard of the NWS said Sunday. “There have been some levy breaks so there are towns that are flooded.”

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, who declared a statewide emergency last week, wrote on Twitter that he witnessed “unbelievable devastation” when he visited several flooded communities on Saturday.

“Getting an update from local officials and public safety personnel in Missouri Valley today. Rain and melting snow have caused severe flooding all across Iowa,” Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said on Sunday on Twitter.

Reynolds also issued an emergency proclamation at the outset of the flooding.

The weather was blamed for two deaths, including one person who died at home after failing to evacuate, and a man swept away while trying to tow a trapped car with his tractor.

Some small towns and communities have been cut off by floods while others have seen fresh drinking water become scarce.

Meteorologists have referred to the storm, which blew from the Western Rockies to the Central Plains last week, as a “bomb cyclone” — a winter hurricane that forms when the barometric pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours.

“That system brought 1 to 3 inches of rainfall but, on top of that, there was already a deep snowpack over much of the area. So a combination of the rain and snow melt had a large volume of water going pretty quickly into the rivers,” Chenard said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Barbara Goldberg in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Catherine Evans)

‘Bomb cyclone’ pushes east across U.S. after winter siege of Midwest, Rockies

A general view of the blizzard in Greeley, Colorado, U.S. March 13, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit TWITTER @PHOTOWILLG/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A powerful, late-winter “bomb cyclone” storm pushed east into the U.S. Midwest and the Great Lakes region on Friday after bombarding the Rocky Mountain and Plains states with blizzards, floods and tornados, prompting precautions at a Nebraska nuclear power plant.

In Iowa, a disaster proclamation by Governor Kim Reynolds, issued after reports of flooding, remained in effect overnight.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts also issued an emergency declaration after rain-swollen rivers and dam breaches left many bridges and roads impassable and prompted thousands of residents of the farm state to evacuate.

“Widespread and extremely dangerous flooding will continue today and tonight,” the National Weather Service office in Omaha, Nebraska, said on Friday in a statement.

Many streams will see moderate to major flooding through the weekend, the service added, and flooding along the Missouri River will continue into next week.

The Nebraska Public Power District declared an “unusual event” at its Cooper Nuclear Station power plant on Friday due to the possibility of flooding along the Missouri.

Workers filled sandbags along the river levee and procured other materials for flood protection, the power agency said. It said the plant continued to operate safely and there was no threat to plant employees or to the public.

Thirteen tornados were reported on Thursday in Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, but there were no immediate reports of serious damage.

Meteorologists referred to the storm as a “bomb cyclone,” a winter hurricane that forms when the barometric pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours.

At the storm’s peak, 2 feet of snow was dumped on Colorado’s mountain regions, forcing the cancellation of more than 1,300 flights in Denver and trapping more than 1,000 motorists on roadsides. Many had to be rescued by police, who used school buses to ferry them to safety.

There were no remaining blizzard warnings Friday, Oravec said.

“There’s still a good threat of thunderstorms in Louisiana, Mississippi and up into the Great Lakes region as the system pushes into Canada, but it’s not like it was,” he said.

Most power outages were cleared by early Friday, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.US, and air traffic returned to normal at Denver International Airport, a regional hub that was hardest hit by the storm.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Keith Coffman, Dan Whitcomb and Scott DiSavino; Editing by Mark Potter and Jonathan Oatis)

Blizzard threatens U.S. central plains with two feet of snow

A woman walks down the street during a blizzard in Long Beach, New York, U.S. January 4, 2018.

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – A late-winter storm this week could dump up to two feet (60 cm) of snow in the U.S. central Plains states, potentially snarling travel and bringing flooding to the Upper Midwest, U.S. forecasters said on Tuesday.

The storm, now brewing as low-pressure center in the southwest, will quickly move into the Rocky Mountains and deliver one to two feet of snow with blizzard conditions in much of Colorado and parts of Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota, the National Weather Service predicted.

The biggest air travel hub likely to be affected by the snow is Denver International Airport, but cross-continental air travel lanes could be disrupted as well as the system brings a line of rain squalls eastward, forecasters said.

“The snow will really start picking up by later tonight into the day on Wednesday,” meteorologist Mark Chenard said in a Tuesday phone interview from the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The storm will also bring heavy rain to areas of eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota that already have a good deal of snow on the ground, the NWS said.

“We could have the potential for major river flooding, given the rain and the snow melt,” Chenard said.

An earlier round of heavy, wet snow caused several roofs to collapse in the Upper Midwest last weekend, including those of a church and a hotel.

By Thursday, the storm system will weaken as it moves over the Tennessee River Valley, bringing mostly rain from Michigan southward to the Gulf Coast and some remaining snow only in the far northern parts of the country, he added.

 

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)