U.S. COVID-19 cases cross 11 million as pandemic intensifies

By Roshan Abraham and Seerat Gupta

(Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in the United States crossed the 11-million mark on Sunday reaching yet another grim milestone, according to a Reuters tally, as the third wave of COVID-19 infections surged across the country.

Reuters data shows the pace of the pandemic in the United States has quickened, with one million more new cases from just 8 days ago when it hit 10 million, making it the fastest since the pandemic began. This compares with 10 days it took to get from 9 to 10 million and 16 days it took to reach 9 million from 8 million cases.

The United States, hardest-hit by the coronavirus, crossed 10 million COVID-19 cases on November 8 and is reporting over 100,000 daily cases for the past 11 days straight.

The latest 7-day average, shows the United States is reporting more than 144,000 daily cases and 1,120 daily deaths, the highest for any country in the world.

Texas and California have reported the highest number of COVID-19 infections across the United States, together accounting for about 2.1 million cases or about 19% of the total cases since the pandemic began, according to Reuters analysis.

As COVID-19 related hospitalizations continue to rise, crossing 69,000 on Saturday, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s top advisers have stressed the need to control the pandemic, warning that local healthcare systems are at a tipping point.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit region based on the most cases per capita with North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska the top five worst-affected U.S. states.

Illinois, which has emerged as the pandemic’s new epicenter in the region as well as across the country, reported a record 15,433 new cases on Friday, the most of any state in a 24-hour period, surpassing the previous all-time high of 15,300 set by Florida in July.

Several states this week re-imposed restrictions to curb the spread of the virus across the nation. North Dakota became the latest state to require that face coverings be worn in public, as it joins 39 other states this month in reporting record daily jumps in new cases.

State governors urged residents to stay home as much as possible, including Nevada Democrat Steve Sisolak, who said late on Friday that he became the fourth governor to become infected with the virus.

The United States accounts for about 20% of more than 54 million global cases and close to 19% of the 1.31 million deaths reported worldwide, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Roshan Abraham and Seerat Gupta in Bengaluru; editing by Diane Craft)

U.S. crosses 10 million COVID-19 cases as third wave of infections surges

By Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia

(Reuters) – The United States became the first nation worldwide since the pandemic began to surpass 10 million coronavirus infections, according to a Reuters tally on Sunday, as the third wave of the COVID-19 virus surges across the nation.

The grim milestone came on the same day as global coronavirus cases exceeded 50 million.

The United states has reported about a million cases in the past 10 days, the highest rate of infections since the nation reported its first novel coronavirus case in Washington state 293 days ago.

The country reported a record 131,420 COVID-19 cases on Saturday and has reported over 100,000 infections five times in the past seven days, according to a Reuters tally.

The U.S. latest reported seven-day average of 105,600 daily cases, ramped up by at least 29%, is more than the combined average for India and France, two of the worst affected countries in Asia and Europe.

More than 237,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the illness caused by the coronavirus first emerged in China late last year.

The daily average of reported new deaths in the United States account for one in every 11 deaths reported worldwide each day, according to a Reuters analysis.

The number of reported deaths nationwide climbed by more than 1,000 for a fifth consecutive day on Saturday, a trend last seen in mid-August, according to a Reuters tally.

Health experts say deaths tend to increase four to six weeks after a surge in infections.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who spent much of his election campaign criticizing President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, pledged on Saturday to make tackling the pandemic a top priority.

Biden will announce a 12-member task force on Monday to deal with the pandemic that will be led by former surgeon general Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler. The coronavirus task force will be charged with developing a blueprint for containing the disease once Biden takes office in January.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit region based on the most cases per capita with North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska the top five worst-affected U.S. states.

Illinois emerged as the new epicenter in the Midwest, with the state reporting over 60,000 COVID-19 infections in the last seven days, the highest in the country, according to Reuters data. The state reported more than 12,454 new cases on Saturday, the highest single-day number so far.

Texas, which accounts for 10% of total U.S. cases, is the hardest-hit state and became the first to surpass a million coronavirus cases in the United States on Saturday.

According to a Reuters analysis, the South region comprises nearly 43% of all the cases in the United States since the pandemic began, with nearly 4.3 million cases in the region alone, followed by the Midwest, West and Northeast.

New York, with over 33,000 fatalities, remains the state with highest number of deaths and accounts for about 14% of total U.S. deaths.

The United States performed about 10.5 million coronavirus tests in the first seven days of November, of which 6.22% came back positive, compared with 6.17% the prior seven-days, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Diane Craft and Michael Perry)

As cold weather arrives, U.S. states see record increases in COVID-19 cases

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Nine U.S. states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases over the last seven days, mostly in the upper Midwest and West where chilly weather is forcing more activities indoors.

On Saturday alone, four states – Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin – saw record increases in new cases and nationally nearly 49,000 new infections were reported, the highest for a Saturday in seven weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming also set new records for cases last week.

New York is one of only 18 states where cases have not risen greatly over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. However, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday he is moving to shut non-essential businesses as well as schools in nine neighborhoods, starting on Wednesday. The lockdown would require the governor’s approval.

Health experts have long warned that colder temperatures driving people inside could promote the spread of the virus. Daytime highs in the upper Midwest are now in the 50’s Fahrenheit (10 Celsius).

Montana has reported record numbers of new cases for three out of the last four days and also has a record number of COVID-19 patients in its hospitals.

Wisconsin has set records for new cases two out of the last three days and also reported record hospitalizations on Saturday. On average 22% of tests are coming back positive, one of the highest rates in the country.

Wisconsin’s Democratic governor mandated masks on Aug. 1 but Republican lawmakers are backing a lawsuit challenging the requirement.

North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin have the highest new cases per capita in the country.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is one of several prominent Republicans who have tested positive for coronavirus since President Donald Trump announced he had contracted the virus.

Because of the surge in cases in the Midwest, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities operated by Aspirus in northern Wisconsin and Michigan are barring most visitors as they did earlier this year.

Bellin Health, which runs a hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said last week its emergency department has been past capacity at times and doctors had to place patients in beds in the hallways.

The United States is reporting 42,600 new cases and 700 deaths on average each day, compared with 35,000 cases and 800 deaths in mid-September. Deaths are a lagging indicator and tend to rise several weeks after cases increase.

Kentucky is the first Southern state to report a record increase in cases in several weeks. Governor Andy Beshear said last week was the highest number of cases the state has seen since the pandemic started.

State health experts have not pinpointed the reason for the rise but point to fatigue with COVID-19 precautions and students returning to schools and colleges. Over the last two weeks, Kentucky has reported nearly 11,000 new cases and has seen hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients rise by 20%.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Ten more states added to New York quarantine order: Cuomo

(Reuters) – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered those arriving in New York from an additional 10 states to quarantine for 14 days to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus as cases flare up across the country.

Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, Washington were added to the travel order which was first issued in June. Minnesota was removed.

Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 31 U.S. states are now required to quarantine upon arrival in New York, according to the travel advisory.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Powerful storm sweeps across northern U.S. plains bringing snow, high winds

(Reuters) – A powerful snowstorm swept across parts of the central and northern U.S. plains in unseasonably cold temperatures and high winds on Thursday, forcing school closures and dozens of vehicle crashes on slick roads across the region.

The system was expected to produce up to 2 feet (61 cm) of snow in parts of central and eastern North Dakota and up to 10 inches of snow in portions of Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana through Saturday evening, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“It is significant, historic amounts for this time of year” in North Dakota, said NWS meteorologist Renee Wise.

The heavy, wet snow was accompanied by sleet and ice, making road travel treacherous if not impossible in some areas, the weather service said.

“It makes it more difficult to shovel and travel in. Some people were saying that with the snow on the roads this morning it was little bit like wet concrete mix,” Wise said.

Temperatures were forecast to dip into the teens while wind gusts were expected to reach 40 mph (65 kph) in parts of the region, the NWS said.

A blizzard warning was issued for communities in northern North Dakota from 10 a.m. Friday until 1 p.m. Saturday. The NWS said it expected three feet of snow and wind gusts to reach 60 mph, causing whiteout conditions and impassable drifts.

Winter storm, high wind and freeze warnings were also in effect for much of the U.S. Plains, from North Dakota south through Kansas and into Oklahoma and into northern Texas as of Thursday afternoon, with some warnings extending into Saturday.

In the Denver metro area, icy roads on Thursday caused dozens of crashes and semi-trucks to jackknife, closing some highways. Conditions were expected to worsen throughout the day as the city was expecting three inches of snow, the Denver Post reported.

“Tons of cars sliding everywhere, even trucks – really scary and unsafe!!,” said a Twitter user named Mehgan Russell, who said they lived in Denver.

The snowstorm forced schools to close in Denver on Thursday after schools were closed in Spokane, Washington, on Wednesday.

Some 136 flights were delayed and another 24 were canceled at Denver International Airport due to snow and ice, the online tracking site FlightAware.com reported.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago)

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)