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30 Days and Counting After Floods Sweep Through Nebraska, Iowa

One month after disastrous flooding swept through the Midwest, reality is settling in on the Plains.

Nebraska and Iowa were hardest hit, with small towns and farmland bearing the brunt of the damage. In Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA), upon conferring with commodity and producer groups and state and local officials, has set loss amounts at $400 million to the livestock sector and $440 million for crop producers. So far. Producers have until the end of April to report losses to their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office, and many are waiting until the last minute to assess stress and calf loss due to the storm’s timing in the midst of calving season.

In Iowa, the numbers are just as devastating and open-ended. Much of Mills County remains underwater, with farmers waiting to assess their losses of stored grain; much of it not covered by private insurance, crop insurance, or federal disaster programs. Reports are also still coming in of losses to hog and poultry barns.

April 15 was the deadline for Nebraska producers to call NDA to request help with animal carcass removal. Crews will be on the job through April.

To help feed surviving livestock, both Iowa and Nebraska have opened CPR ground to grazing, Nebraska until the end of April and Iowa through mid-May.

Hay donations from around the country continue to roll in. In the two weeks after the floods, the Nebraska National Guard dropped 37.5 tons of hay by air and delivered 17.5 tons by ground.

Meeting people’s needs

There is no firm estimate on the number of people displaced by the flooding, but Earl Imler, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency Operations Section Manager and State Coordinating Officer for the emergency event, says most emergency shelters have now closed. Drinking water problems are mostly overcome by emergency wells, municipal sources, or access to bottled water.

In western Iowa where sections of the towns of Hamburg, Pacific Junction, and some rural areas remain submerged, boil orders remain in place prohibiting drinking, but allowing for other water uses.

Multi-agency resource centers have opened in many communities to serve as a first point of contact for those needing assistance. As of April 12, FEMA had provided more than $15 million to Nebraskans for housing and other individual needs, and the Small Business Administration had awarded nearly $3.8 million in low-interest disaster loans.

Some communities have set up housing task forces, and efforts are being made to address any lingering cell and Internet issues.

State disaster management networks are working to provide needed information to flood victims, through press releases, websites, and Facebook pages. Imler says they are taking measures into account for language barriers, including help for the hearing impaired, and they are focused on interagency communications to expedite help where it is needed.

“We’re making progress,” says Imler, “at least as far as we know. But there are a lot of isolated areas and people out there we haven’t heard from yet.”

Salvaging the fractured infrastructure

With the individual aid network in place the focus is turning to public assistance. Nebraska has nearly 80% of the state under Presidential Disaster Declaration; Iowa has 56 of its 99 counties.

First on the agenda is repairing miles and miles of roads and bridges. Imler says at one point 300 miles of roads in Nebraska were impassable either because of water coverage or damage. There are 19 miles remaining inaccessible. In Iowa, a section of Interstate 29 remains closed, along with many rural roads and state highways.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has given Iowa the go-ahead to make immediate use of $9 million in federal emergency relief funds to make short-term repairs to roads damaged by the flooding.

Much of the road repair will be done at the local level using a combination of local, state, and federal funding. Imler says contracts are being let and local and state department of transportation officials are working together to identify critical infrastructure, with farm-to-market roads and emergency access taking priority.

In Nance County, Nebraska, it will likely be several months before Twin River Public Schools is able to bridge its flooded rivers and function normally again. In the mean time, it is using video conferencing to educate its students in the three towns in the district, with students and teachers working at various sites.

“We’re very lucky that we are one-to-one Chromebooks, and that we have teachers who know how to use the technology to instruct kids,” Elementary Principal Tod Heier told the Omaha World Herald.

Mending the many levy breeches along the Missouri and other rivers will take time – to repair and to navigate the multi-level agencies and departments involved.

At least one is set for repair near Percival, Iowa, where a $7.5 million contract has been awarded to Western Contracting Corp. of Sioux City, Iowa, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Plans are to dredge dirt from the Missouri River to patch the levy. The work is expected to take 60 days.

Other debates about levy repair priorities and responsibilities are ongoing, as is debate concerning passing of a federal disaster aid package, where efforts are stalled around how much funding Puerto Rico should receive in the multi-disaster package. Iowa Senators Ernst and Grassley are pushing for additional provisions that would offer relief for farmers who have lost stored grain.

Other measures

Both Iowa and Nebraska have extended deadlines on several emergency measures to continue flood recovery. Certain regulatory provisions pertaining to weight limits and hours of service for disaster repair crews and drivers delivering goods and services while responding to disaster sites were suspended for the disaster and have now been extended an additional 30 days. Likewise, the measures waive fees for replacement motor vehicle registrations cards, plates, and driver licenses; additional fees for car and travel trailer lots, and some types of recycler licenses and solid waste disposal facilities’ fees.

For many, picking up the pieces from the flood disaster means going back to work, assuming one’s employer is functional. For those in need of employment assistance in Nebraska, a mobile computer lab, on loan from the State of Kansas, will be available next week for workers impacted by the flooding to help with unemployment claims and job searches. The KansasWorks Mobile Workforce Center has stops scheduled in Bellevue, Fremont, Valley, and Plattsmouth April 16-19. For those unable to catch the trailer, a free NEworks mobile job search app is available.

Workers in counties in both states with Individual Disaster Declarations may qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. Application date is April 25.

And FEMA is hiring. The agency is seeking temporary help. Just visit USAJOBS.gov for more information.

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