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Nebraska Flood Damage: $1.5 Billion and Rising

Damage to farms, businesses, state and federal property is soaring as flood waters recede.

Damage estimates are emerging from the state of Nebraska, and although preliminary, they are staggering:

  • $439 million road and bridge infrastructure
  • $85 million in private residential and property 
  • $400 million in cow-calf losses
  • $440 million in crop losses
  • 41 businesses destroyed
  • 2,067 homes destroyed
  • 200 miles of state roads damaged
  • 16 state highway bridges that are unpassable

Simply put, “This is the most widespread natural disaster we’ve ever had in our state’s history,” Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said in a briefing with media March 20.

Ricketts says the numbers above are preliminary, and accurate as of March 20. They will change in coming days, he adds. 

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts
In the wake of record flooding throughout much of the state, the governor’s office hosted Vice President Mike Pence in a tour March 19. Following the vice president’s visit, Ricketts’s office and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency collaborated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency District 7 office in Kansas City to submit a request for disaster aid to the FEMA office in Washington, D.C. A federal disaster designation would allow Nebraska to qualify for a number of federal assistance programs. He did not have a time line on when that request may be granted, but if granted, it would help the state rebuild road and bridge infrastructure, plus help a number of public and private entities, among other things. 

Problems Are More Visible

State agencies are beginning to see the magnitude of damage caused by record flooding to the Platte, Loup, Elkhorn, and Missouri rivers. Bryan Tuma, assistant director of NEMA, says hazardous materials are beginning to appear now that flood waters have receded. These include deceased animals, chemical containers, and other assorted debris. Tuma’s agency is developing a plan to remediate those items. 

While it is slightly easier to ascertain the damage in communities and on state and federal highways, many of Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers remain overwhelmed with damage to their property. 

Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, says that agency has established a phone line to receive calls from farmers and ranchers, plus those offering to help. To date, more than two thirds of those calls have been from folks offering assistance. “We are grateful for the offers,” Wellman says. 

The NDA stays in close contact with Nebraska farm groups and commodity organizations, plus the USDA, to learn how widespread damage is and to learn of federal assistance programs. These can be accessed in the resources table below. 

Wellman said the losses to agriculture were derived from conversations with farmers and farm groups, and includes areas of damage, death loss, sick animals, and continuing expenses for livestock producers. The estimate on the crop side includes areas that will qualify for prevented planting, land that is unlikely to be planted at all, plus the cost of debris removal, damaged or ruined seed and fertilizer supplies, and stored grain that has been damaged. 

In the wake of 2011 floods, it took years for some affected fields to be cleaned of debris and sand, Wellman adds. 

Help on the Way

The Nebraska National Guard has a number of helicopters on standby to help the state’s residents, adds Major General Daryl Bohac, Nebraska adjutant general.

One Chinook chopper has been deployed to Colfax County, Nebraska, to drop hay in an effort to feed cattle, Bohac says. The chopper was dispatched from Lincoln, will pick up hay in Columbus, and be dropped at the right location near the Platte River. The rancher whose cattle will be fed will be on the chopper, Bohac says. This is the first time in 50 years that a hay drop has been made by the National Guard, he adds.

Ricketts says all damage estimates are preliminary and will change daily. What doesn’t change, he says, is that the state will work as a team. 

“As Nebraskans always have, we’ll get through this together. Everyone in Nebraska is pulling together.” 

Nebraska Dept. of Ag Ag Assistance 800-831-0550 To seek help, or to offer help
Frequently Asked Questions 402-817-1551 Nebraska residents wondering what to do
Rural Response Hotline 800-464-0258 Stress mitigation, mental health assistance
Blizzard/Flooding Resources Links to helpful state and federal programs
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