U.S. floods kill three, cut off towns as rivers rise

(Reuters) – Floodwaters continued to rise in the U.S. Midwest on Monday and were not expected to crest for another 24 hours, forecasters said, after killing three people in Nebraska and Iowa and inundating a U.S. Air Force base.

The Missouri River, the longest in North America, has flooded much of Nebraska between Omaha and Kansas City at the Missouri state line. It was expected to crest at 47.5 feet (14.48 m) on Tuesday, breaking the previous record, set in 2011, by more than a foot, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said in the latest bulletin on its web page.

“This really is the most devastating flooding we’ve probably ever had in our state’s history, from the standpoint of how widespread it is,” Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said in a Twitter post on Monday.

“In 2011, it took 108 days for water to subside, and this year the water is 4-5 feet higher,” Ricketts said in another tweet. “NEMA and teams across the state are working around the clock to provide relief.”

Ricketts and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds have both declared states of emergency, and U.S. President Donald Trump said the White House had reached out to state and local officials in devastated areas.

On Monday the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, citing sheriffs’ officials, reported that an 80-year-old woman had become the latest confirmed fatality of the disaster. Betty Hamernik died in her home near Columbus, Nebraska, after becoming trapped by rising floodwaters from the Loup River.

Other casualties identified by local authorities are 50-year-old James Wilke, who was swept away while trying to use his tractor to free a trapped car near Columbus, and a man whose car was caught up in fast-moving water in Iowa..

At least two people are missing in Nebraska, the World-Herald reported.


More than 600 Nebraska residents were evacuated and taken to American Red Cross-operated shelters, NEMA said on Sunday.

Lanni Bailey and a team from Muddy Paws Second Chance Rescue enter a flooded house to pull out several cats during the flooding of the Missouri River near Glenwood, Iowa, U.S. March 18, 2019. Passport Aerial Photography/Handout via REUTERS

The Missouri River’s overflowing banks have cut off roads leading to the Cooper nuclear plant, near Brownville, Nebraska, forcing operators to fly in staff and supplies by helicopter. The nuclear plant continued to operate safely and was at full power, its operator said.

Water also covered one-third of that state’s Offutt Air Force Base, near Bellevue, home to the U.S. Strategic Command.

At least 30 buildings had been flooded by up to 8 feet of water and 30 more structures had been damaged on the base, the Omaha World-Herald reported, citing a base spokeswoman. Base officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The National Weather Service reported some of the region’s larger rivers were running at record high levels, causing levee breaks. Some small towns and communities have been cut off by floods while others found themselves short of fresh drinking water.

Streets in Lincoln, Nebraska’s capital, were barely visible as high water surrounded homes, cars and trees, according to photos released to Reuters by state authorities. Elsewhere in the state, one highway near Waterloo was submerged, and piles of debris and damaged roads were visible in Niobrara.

Floodwater climbed up the sides of buildings at Camp Ashland, an Army National Guard facility in Ashland, Nebraska.

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Warmer temperatures will speed the pace of snow melt across the region and contribute water to already swollen rivers, the NWS said, possibly forcing more 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.

Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler

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