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Flooding in Midwest May Reach ‘Historic and Catastrophic’ Levels

Nebraska alone has sustained an estimated $1.4 billion in losses and damages

(Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management via AP)
smithsonian.com

Extreme floods have inundated swaths of the Midwest, spilling over levees, submerging homes and businesses, and destroying hundreds of millions of dollars in crops. The worst may not be over; the National Weather Service has said that “[m]ajor to historic and catastrophic flooding” is expected to continue “through the short range” across parts of the Missouri and Mississippi River Basins.

The floods were triggered by a “bomb cyclone,” a “hurricane-like” winter storm that dumped heavy rains onto snow that had not yet melted, reports Alex Horton of the Washington Post. The situation was intensified, according to the New York Times’ Adeel Hassan, by floods this past September and October, which left the soil saturated and unable to absorb water. The deluge consequently spread quickly, spilling into rivers and streams and causing them to overflow. Some 200 miles of levees have now been compromised in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said, per USA Today’s John Bacon and Doyle Rice.

Nebraska has been particularly hard hit. Three-quarters of its 93 counties have declared a state of emergency, and three people in the state have died; a fourth fatality was reported in Iowa. According to the Associated Press, Nebraska state officials have estimated that the flooding has thus far caused nearly $1.4 billion in losses and damages, including $85 million in damages to homes and businesses, $449 million in damages to infrastructure, $400 million in cattle losses and $440 million in crop losses.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said the flooding the “most extensive damage our state has ever experienced,” reports Reece Ristau of the Omaha World-Herald.

Officials are seeking a federal disaster declaration, which would allow the state to access Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. Iowa is doing the same. On Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that 30 levees there had been breached, up from 12 the day before. Almost half of the state’s 99 counties have declared a state of emergency. After surveying the waterlogged lands from an aircraft, Governor Kim Reynolds said, “It was heart-wrenching to see the breadth of the flood.”

Missouri is bracing for another flood crest on Friday, and 81,000 people who live along the swelling Missouri River are under flood warning, reports Reuters’ Humeyra Pamuk.

Many areas are in for a long-haul recovery process. Nebraska Governor Ricketts noted in an interview with Brian Pascus of CBS News that it took 108 days for waters to recede in one region of Nebraska after a 2011 flood.

“We will work as quickly as possible to get people back in their homes to provide that relief,” he said. “But when it comes to the major projects like our public infrastructure, roads, bridges, we're going to need the public's patience because it is going to take a while to get all of this recovered.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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