Flooding in parts of the Midwest has left one man dead, forced a National Weather Service office to evacuate and threatens a Nebraska dam and nuclear power plant as heavy rains mixed with melting snowpack to swell waterways to historic levels.
In Nebraska, the rising Missouri River meant officials were preparing to shut down the Cooper Nuclear Plant in the town of Brownville, according to Omaha World-Herald reporter Nancy Gaarder.
Mark Becker, spokesman for the Nebraska Public Power District, previously told the Omaha World-Herald that if the river rises to 45.5 feet this weekend, as projected by the NWS, the nuclear power plant, which accounts for 35 percent of NPPD’s power, will have to be shut down.
Becker noted that when plant shuts down, NPPD will be able to get power elsewhere, and they don’t expect the closure to lead to outages.
After surveying the extensive flooding from the air, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a Friday press conference that it was the “most widespread flooding damage we’ve had in the last half-century.”
“Even when we were away from the water system, we saw that the fields were very saturated,” he added.
In Sarpy County, Nebraska, where floodwaters compromised a levee, some 1,200 hundred people along the Missouri River were told to evacuate, while another 1,400 along the Platte and Elkhorn rivers were asked to leave.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed all traffic Friday on a 70-mile stretch of the Missouri River from 50 miles south of Omaha, Nebraska, to St. Joseph Missouri.
Meanwhile, a portion of Union Dike in Valley, Nebraska, reportedly failed Friday, triggering a flash flood emergency. Residents in the area were urged to evacuate, including the NWS Omaha, which issued the flood emergency.
NWS Hastings will take over forecasting duties for the office.
An unidentified Nebraska farmer was killed Thursday after the tractor he was using to attempt to rescue a stranded motorist was carried away by floodwaters, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The incident occurred at Shell Creek near Columbus in eastern Nebraska.
Meanwhile, Ericson Dam in north-central Nebraska is at high risk of failing as the Cedar River continues to rise, according to a report by the NWS.
Officials in Boone County, downstream from the dam, also warned of the “imminent failure” of the dam, Boone County News reported.
On Thursday, NPPD lost another small electrical plant when the Spencer Dam failed at the Niobrara River and caused a large ice floe to jam a hole in the building. Workers inside the building were uninjured, Becker told the newspaper. The failure also forced the evacuation of dozens of residents along the river.
— Fred Knapp (@fredmknapp) March 15, 2019
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office posted a notice on Facebook Thursday morning warning residents that the dam had been “compromised.”
The Nebraska State Patrol tweeted a photo that showed a bridge on Highway 281 over the Niobrara River south of the dam had washed away.
The bridge on Highway 281 over the Niobrara, south of Spencer Dam appears to be gone.
Highway 281 is already closed in this area.
This was taken this morning. pic.twitter.com/0tuejsVGK8
— Nebraska State Patrol (@NEStatePatrol) March 14, 2019
So far, 19 locations across the Midwest have set new flood crests, said weather.com senior meteorologist Jon Erdman. These include eight locations in both Iowa and Nebraska, two in South Dakota and one in Wisconsin. Erdman noted that the flooding will continue through the weekend and highlighted a possible flood record of more than two feet on the Missouri River at Brownville, Missouri.
As of Friday evening, emergencies had been declared by the governors of three states: Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Just before 11 a.m. Thursday, the residents of Hornick in western Iowa were ordered to evacuate immediately because of a levee breach on the West Fork of the Little Sioux River.
“They gave us about 10 minutes, so you just grab the things you need the most,” Catie Newman told the Des Moines Register.
Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters went door-to-door warning the residents, the Sioux City Journal reported.
Newman, who is disaster response coordinator for the Iowa United Methodist Church and pastor of churches in Hornick and Salix, said tree branches and chunks of ice were floating across the plains around the town of about 200 people about 30 miles southeast of Sioux City. “Many of the fields are filled with water as far as the eye can see,” she said.
“Really all we can do right now is take care of one another,” Newman told the Register from the Salix church where she planned to stay Thursday night.
To the north of Hornick, the town of Moville was also inundated by floodwaters.
Flooding closed several highways, including the closure Thursday of Interstate 680 near Council Bluffs and a portion of Interstate 29, the Associated Press reported.
Several breached levees prompted evacuations in Missouri Valley, the AP also reported. Parts of the city were already underwater.
Five firefighters and two rescue divers were taken to hospital with signs of hypothermia Friday after two boats in which they were conducting rescues capsized in Dodge County near the Elkhorn River. One firefighter, who may have been in the frigid water for more than an hour, is in critical condition, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
Plattsmouth residents were told to restrict water use after the Plattsmouth Water Treatment Plant was inundated by rising floodwaters from the Missouri River. The plant was shut down and a water emergency declared, WOWT-TV reported.
On Friday, an evacuation order for one-third of the 24,000 residents in Norfolk was lifted; a day earlier, the city’s levee system “neared its top,” city officials said. One person was reported missing after their car was swept away, News Channel Nebraska reported.
.@NENationalGuard performing an air rescue near Arlington.
— Nebraska State Patrol (@NEStatePatrol) March 15, 2019
Ten people were trapped on Channel Road in Norfolk, and rescue crews had to use a boat to reach one home surrounded by flood water, KETV reported. Floodwaters caused a bridge to collapse on Highway 13 in nearby Hadar, Nebraska, News Channel Nebraska also said.
Earlier Thursday, people were rescued from cabins along the Platte River in Yutan.
A hospital and nursing home were evacuated in Genoa after the Loup River overtopped an intake structure at the the Loup Power Division, News Channel Nebraska reported.
The Nebraska State Patrol was assisting with evacuations but had trouble accessing the community, News Channel Nebraska reported. The station also notes there are “no safe evacuation routes.”
Residents along the Platte River from Schuyler to Ashland were told to evacuate at 11 a.m., the Omaha World-Herald reported. The NWS warned that a surge of water was moving down the river because of an ice jam breakup.
“Anyone living near the Platte or in the floodplain needs to get out before it’s too late,” Dustin Wilcox, a spokesman for the Nebraska Association of Natural Resources Districts, told the World-Herald.
Highways 30 and 36 were closed by flooding in Washington and Douglas counties, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said. Water rescues were taking place in Arlington, Blair, Fort Calhoun and Kennard, the sheriff’s office said.
“Things are moving and changing at a rapid pace,” Douglas County Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson told reporters Friday. “We need you to follow instructions and evacuate when we say you need to evacuate.”
Floodwaters forced the closure of Interstate 29 Friday from Rockport to the Iowa state line.
Officials in Holt County in northwest Missouri recommended that people living in low-lying areas near the Missouri River evacuate. Dozens of roads were closed in that corner of the state because of flooding.
A woman who fell into the swift-moving Missouri River in Bridgeton Wednesday night had to cling to the roots of a tree until rescuers could pull her from the 40-degree water, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported. The woman, who was not identified, was walking her dog when she slipped off a bank and couldn’t climb back up. She was in the water for about 35 minutes, the report said.
“It was pretty miraculous she held on the way she did,” Assistant Chief Jim Usry of the Pattonville Fire Protection District said.
In southwestern Wisconsin, many roads in the town of Darlington were cut off by floodwaters on Friday. Homes and businesses took on water as the Pecatonica River rose to its highest level since 1993, according to WMTV.
“We’re all kind of nervous for what’s going to happen,” Susanne Chambers, owner of the Pizza Pantry, told WMTV. “It’s kind of a scary situation for us – we just don’t know what we have to do next.”
Some Brown County residents, including some of the 14,000 living in the village of Bellevue, were ordered to evacuate overnight as floodwaters along the East River continued to rise, according to NBC26.
An estimated 1,000 residents at a mobile home park in Jordan were urged to evacuate late Thursday after an ice jam on Sand Creek caused the creek to overflow its banks and onto the property, KSTP.com reported. The evacuation was voluntary, authorities told the station, noting that there is no drowning risk involved.