Heavy rain atop frozen ground causes flooding in Midwest
By BLAKE NICHOLSON
Friday, March 15
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Heavy rain falling atop deeply frozen ground has prompted evacuations along swollen rivers in Wisconsin, Nebraska and other Midwestern states, while powerful wind and snow has impacted hundreds of miles of interstates in North Dakota.
The flooding is likely to persist into the weekend in states where frozen ground is preventing snowmelt and rain from a massive late-winter storm from soaking into the soil, according to forecasters.
Snow and poor visibility prompted officials to close two interstates in eastern North Dakota, though the roadways were slowly reopening late Friday morning. In South Dakota, schools in Rapid City were closed as residents dug out from a blizzard, while flooding on the other side of the state prompted officials in Sioux Falls to go door-to-door and evacuate residents from homes.
Flooding made several highways impassable in Wisconsin, where rescuers in Fond du Lac had to move residents to higher ground after flooding along the Fond du Lac River. And a tornado that swept through mid-Michigan late Thursday damaged at least 21 homes and knocked out power to thousands of people, according to state police and first-responders. No injuries were immediately reported.
The system, which moved into the Midwest after crippling parts of Colorado and Wyoming with blizzard conditions, continues to move east — but the effects aren’t expected to be as bad as what was seen Thursday in Nebraska and Iowa, where quickly rising water washed out roads, triggered evacuations and left farmers worried that all the water would drown livestock.
“With the frozen ground and amount of rain our area had, it was just a perfect set of circumstances that led to the flooding we’re seeing in Nebraska and Iowa,” meteorologist Paul Fajman said.
Local residents who had to evacuate will be cleaning up the damage for some time.
“It was ugly. It still is,” Jim Freeman said after using a chain saw to cut up a chunk of ice that floodwaters left in his driveway in Fremont, Nebraska. “There’s a lot of damage.”
Many of the homes in Freeman’s neighborhood were inundated by water that flowed in from the Platte River. Fajman said parts of northeastern Iowa also can expect more flooding Friday and into the weekend.
Emergency crews responded after a vehicle was swept off a road in Norfolk, Nebraska, and rising water along the Elkhorn River prompted evacuations in the city of 24,000 people. The missing motorist had not been found by late Thursday.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem closed all state offices Thursday as the blizzard conditions moved in, and later in the day ordered the opening of the state’s Emergency Operations Center to handle the response to the blizzard and flooding. Rainfall records were set Wednesday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa.
“We’ve got a lot of water, and it’s got to find a way to get out of here,” said Tracy West, mayor of Lennox, South Dakota.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press reporters Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska; Dan Elliott in Longmont, Colorado; David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa; Bob Moen and Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming; Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee; Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Nebraska.
Forecasters: ‘Potentially historic’ flooding threatens South
By JEFF MARTIN
Thursday, March 21
Scientists are warning that historic flooding could soon deluge parts of several Southern states along the lower Mississippi River, where floodwaters could persist for several weeks.
The flood threat in the South will be discussed Thursday, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releases its 2019 spring outlook. Experts plan a briefing on their flood forecast at the National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Thursday’s report is aimed at helping emergency managers and other safety officials to prepare for flooding.
Flooding in Southern states this spring will be “potentially historic,” NOAA said in an advisory.
Rapidly melting snow in the upper Midwest is contributing to flooding that will eventually make its way downstream to the Gulf Coast, forecasters have said.
The expected surge of water from the north is unwelcome news in parts of Mississippi. In the western part of that state, the Mississippi River is already swollen and has been flooding some communities unprotected by levees since last month.
One Mississippi region protected by levees is also flooding. That’s because smaller rivers can’t drain into the Mississippi River as normal because a floodgate that protects the region from even worse flooding by the big river has been closed since Feb. 15.
Around Rolling Fork, Mississippi, townspeople first noticed water rising from swamps near the Mississippi River in late February. The water eventually invaded some homes in that community, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Vicksburg.
Major flooding is already occurring this week on the Mississippi River near several Southern cities including Arkansas City, Arkansas; Natchez, Mississippi; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to river gauges and data from NOAA.
The specter of major flooding on the Mississippi River upstream from New Orleans is a more perilous situation now than in years past, some researchers believe. That’s partly because the river floor has risen significantly higher over the years as sediment has collected in the river bottom, Louisiana State University hydrologist Yi-Jun Xu found.
The situation is so serious that Xu believes a “mega flood” could overpower a giant flood control structure north of New Orleans and send the Mississippi River rushing down another path entirely and creating a new route to the Gulf of Mexico. That would allow the Gulf to push saltwater upstream into the river, ruining the drinking water supply for metropolitan New Orleans, according to a summary of Xu’s 2017 presentation to the American Geophysical Union.
Associated Press Writer Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed.
Flooded Iowa communities surviving with trucked-in water
By DAVID PITT
Thursday, March 21
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — As some communities along the Missouri River start to shift their focus to flood recovery after a late-winter storm, residents in two Iowa cities are stuck in crisis mode after their treatment plants shut down and left them in need of fresh water.
Tanker trucks from the Iowa National Guard and a private company are hauling water into Hamburg and Glenwood, said Lucinda Parker, a spokeswoman with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Many evacuated from flooded areas in the southwestern part of the state are staying in shelters or with family and friends in the wake of the flooding and water struggles it has caused.
“The water is starting to go down in communities and they’re looking at how they’re going to start their recovery,” Parker said Wednesday.
Trucks are hauling about 300,000 gallons (1.1 million liters) per day to Glenwood’s water treatment plant from the neighboring cities of Red Oak and Shenandoah, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Grocery store chains Hy-Vee and Fareway also have provided truckloads of bottled water.
Mike Wells, superintendent of the Hamburg Community School District, said one of the biggest concerns about having no fresh water is staying clean. The school district has coordinated providing buses for residents to ride 25 miles (40 kilometers) to Shenandoah or 10 miles (16 kilometers) to Sidney to shower. A local ministerial society has been picking up residents’ laundry at the school district, taking it to Shenandoah to wash it, and returning it.
“These are the best people. There’s no despair. There’s no giving up,” Wells said.
He said school would resume Thursday because it’s important for children to get back into their routine. He said the first half of the school day will be regular classes, but in the afternoon students will help collect laundry, deliver water, check on older residents and help provide food to those who need meals.
“This is a great opportunity to learn real life,” Wells said.
The surging waters have damaged hundreds of homes in the Midwest and been blamed for at least three deaths — two in Nebraska and one in Iowa. The flooding led to trains being halted in Missouri, creating transportation problems for both people and products. It also has taken a heavy toll on agriculture, inundating tens of thousands of acres, threatening stockpiled grain and killing livestock.
Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather such as storms, floods, droughts and fires, but without extensive study they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.
Flooding hit Hamburg and Glenwood, which combined have about 6,000 residents, after the storm. Hamburg evacuated over the weekend. So did a portion of Mills County near Glenwood. Officials said the communities’ water supplies became compromised.
Water quality suffers during flooding even for areas not directly affected by floodwater. In Des Moines — which gets its water from two rivers that are flooding, though not as much as the Missouri River — levels of ammonia and other contaminants rise during floods. That may require increased use of chlorine to disinfect the water “and a careful balancing act not to overtreat,” said Water Works CEO Bill Stowe.
The water utility that serves about 500,000 central Iowa customers also at times deals with high levels of nitrate from farm fertilizer runoff, but the volume of water has diluted that impact and isn’t currently a concern, Stowe said.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she would be asking President Donald Trump for an expedited disaster declaration. She said officials in her state were gathering damage estimates first.
National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Low said during a telephone briefing Wednesday that “major and perhaps historic” flooding is possible later this month at some spots on the Big Sioux and James rivers in South Dakota and northwestern Iowa.
Parker, the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management spokeswoman, said even though southwestern Iowa was hit hardest in the state during this round of flooding, there are concerns of more widespread flooding ahead.
“We’re definitely not out of the woods,” she said, before later adding, “So take this opportunity to get prepared.”
Associated Press writers Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri; Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Nebraska; and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.
Check out the latest developments on flooding in the Midwest.
Floodwaters threaten millions in crop and livestock losses
By DAVID PITT AND MARGERY BECK
Wednesday, March 20
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Farmer Jeff Jorgenson looks out over 750 acres of cropland submerged beneath the swollen Missouri River, and he knows he probably won’t plant this year.
But that’s not his biggest worry. He and other farmers have worked until midnight for days to move grain, equipment and fuel barrels away from the floodwaters fed by heavy rain and snowmelt. The rising water that has damaged hundreds of homes and been blamed for three deaths has also taken a heavy toll on agriculture, inundating thousands of acres, threatening stockpiled grain and killing livestock.
In Fremont County alone, Jorgenson estimates that more than a million bushels of corn and nearly half a million bushels of soybeans have been lost after water overwhelmed grain bins before they could be emptied of last year’s crop. His calculation using local grain prices puts the financial loss at more than $7 million in grain alone. That’s for about 28 farmers in his immediate area, he said.
Once it’s deposited in bins, grain is not insured, so it’s just lost money. This year farmers have stored much more grain than normal because of a large crop last year and fewer markets in which to sell soybeans because of a trade dispute with China.
“The economy in agriculture is not very good right now. It will end some of these folks farming, family legacies, family farms,” he said. “There will be farmers that will be dealing with so much of a negative they won’t be able to tolerate it.”
Jorgenson, 43, who has farmed since 1998, reached out to friends Saturday, and they helped him move his grain out of bins to an elevator. Had they not acted, he would have lost $135,000.
Vice President Mike Pence surveyed flooded areas in Nebraska Tuesday, where he viewed the raging Elkhorn river, talked to first responders and visited a shelter for displaced people. He promised expedited action on presidential disaster declarations for Iowa and Nebraska.
“We’re going to make sure that federal resources are there for you,” Pence told volunteers at Waterloo, a town of less than 1,000 residents about 21 miles (34 kilometers) west of Omaha that was virtually cut off by the floodwaters.
The flooding is expected to continue throughout the week in several states as high water flows down the Missouri River. Swollen rivers have already breached more than a dozen levees in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The flooding, which started after a massive late-winter storm last week, has also put some hog farms in southwest Iowa underwater. The dead animals inside must be disposed of, Reynolds said.
The water rose so quickly that farmers in many areas had no time to get animals out, said Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University.
“Places that haven’t seen animal loss have seen a lot of animal stress. That means they’re not gaining weight and won’t be marketed in as timely a manner, which results in additional cost,” he said.
In all, Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson estimated $400 million of crop losses from fields left unplanted or planted late and up to $500 million in livestock losses.
In a news release issued Tuesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts said there have been deadlier disasters in Nebraska but never one as widespread. He said 65 of the state’s 93 counties are under emergency declarations.
In neighboring Missouri, water was just shy of getting into Ryonee McCann’s home along a recreational lake in Holt County, where about 40,000 acres (16,188 hectares) and hundreds of homes have been flooded. She said her home sits on an 8-foot (2.5-meter) foundation.
“We have no control over it,” the 38-year-old said. “We just have to wait for the water to recede. It’s upsetting because everything you have worked for is there.”
The Missouri River was forecast to crest Thursday morning at 11.6 feet above flood stage in St. Joseph, Missouri, the third highest crest on record. More than 100 roads are closed in the state, including a growing section of Interstate 29.
Leaders of the small northwestern Missouri town of Craig ordered an evacuation. The Holt County Sheriff’s Department said residents who choose to stay must go to City Hall to provide their name and address in case they need to be rescued.
In nearby Atchison County, Missouri, floodwaters knocked out a larger section of an already busted levee overnight, making the village of Watson unreachable, said Mark Manchester, the county’s deputy director of emergency management/911.
Officials believe everyone got out before thousands of more acres were flooded. But so many roads are now closed that some residents must travel more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) out of their way to get to their jobs at the Cooper Nuclear Station in Nebraska, he said.
“It’s a lot harder for people to get around,” Manchester said.
River flooding has also surrounded a northern Illinois neighborhood with water, prompting residents to escape in boats. People living in the Illinois village of Roscoe say children have walked through floodwaters or kayaked to catch school buses.
Flooding along rivers in western Michigan has damaged dozens of homes and businesses.
Associated Press writer Margery Beck reported from Omaha, Nebraska. AP writers Jim Salter in St. Louis and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.
Check out the latest developments on flooding in the Midwest.
Passenger rail route suspended, more evacuate amid flooding
Wednesday, March 20
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Passenger rail traffic along a popular Missouri route has been suspended and evacuations continue amid flooding along the Missouri River.
Amtrak said Tuesday that it was temporarily halting its Missouri River Runner Service between Kansas City and St. Louis. The company says that because of the flooding, freight traffic has been diverted to tracks Amtrak uses. Buses will transport passengers instead.
In northwest Missouri, two more levees were breached Tuesday and the 220 residents of the town of Craig were ordered to evacuate. Local officials say water also is lapping at the edge of the tiny town of Fortescue, where residents used excavators to create a makeshift levee.
The floodwaters have damaged hundreds of homes and been blamed for three deaths in the Midwest. The flooding has also taken a heavy toll on agriculture, inundating thousands of acres, threatening stockpiled grain and killing livestock.
Homes flood as Missouri River overtops, breaches levees
By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH
Monday, March 18
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Hundreds of homes have flooded in several Midwestern states after rivers breached at least a dozen levees following heavy rain and snowmelt in the region, authorities said Monday while warning that the flooding was expected to linger.
Many homes in a mostly rural area of Missouri’s Holt County were inundated with 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) of water from the swollen Missouri River, said the county’s emergency management director, Tom Bullock. He said his own home was now on an island surrounded by floodwater.
One couple was rescued in a helicopter after water from three breached levees swept across 40,000 acres, he said. Another nine breaches have been confirmed in Nebraska and Iowa counties south of the Platte River, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The levees are busted and we aren’t even into the wet season when the rivers run high,” Bullock said, noting that local farmers are only a month away from planting corn and soybeans. “The water isn’t going to be gone, and the levees aren’t going to be fixed this year.”
In nearby Atchison County, about 130 people were urged to leave their homes as water levels rose and strained levees, three of which had already been overtopped by water. Missouri State Highway Patrol crews were on standby to rescue anyone who insisted on staying despite the danger.
“The next four to five days are going to be pretty rough,” said Rhonda Wiley, Atchison County’s emergency management and 911 director.
The Missouri River has already crested upstream of Omaha, Nebraska, though hundreds of people remained out of their homes.
In southwest Iowa, the Missouri River reached a level in Fremont County that was 2 feet (0.6 meter) above a record set in 2011. Evacuations have been ordered in the small towns of Bartlett and Thurman.
“This wasn’t a gradual rise,” Mike Crecelius, Fremont County emergency management director, said Sunday. “It’s flowing fast and it’s open country — there’s nothing there to slow it down.”
The National Weather Service said the river was expected to crest Thursday in St. Joseph, Missouri, at its third highest level on record. Military C-130 planes were evacuated last week from nearby Rosecrans Air National Guard base.
The flooding started after a massive late-winter storm hit the Midwest last week. At least two deaths were blamed on flooding, and two other men have been missing for days.
The Missouri Department of Transportation reports about 100 flood-related road closures, including a stretch of Interstate 29.
Jud Kneuvean, the emergency manger with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ Kansas City district, blamed a combination of higher temperature, rainfall and snowmelt “converging all at the same time.”
No significant flooding was expected east of Kansas City, though Kneuvean said the Corps was watching weather forecasts closely.
“When you have a high river and have any forecast of rain on it, it can change the scenario very quickly,” Kneuvean said.
Associated Press reporter Jim Salter contributed to this report from St. Louis.
Disasters Don’t Discriminate, But Disaster Recovery Does
Big relief groups often leave poor and rural areas on their own. That gives us an opportunity to come together.
By Warren Alan Tidwell | March 12, 2019
Recently, I was driving home up highway 169 in Lee County, Alabama. Ten minutes after we passed a roadside business, it was destroyed by 170 mile-per-hour winds. Trees turned into missiles, and 23 lives were lost.
This monster storm tracked through Beauregard and Smith’s Station, destroying nearly every home along a 24-mile path. Victims included three small children, 10 members of one African-American family, and Maggie Robinson, a nurse at the East Alabama Medical Center for 40 years.
As the climate changes, deadly storms like the one that killed Maggie are more frequent. Rural areas suffer the most. When a storm hits a community like Beauregard, where many people live in mobile homes and at or below the poverty line, dozens can die in seconds.
I’ve helped rural communities recover from natural disasters for two decades, and spent two years on the Gulf Coast helping rebuild from Hurricane Katrina.
Once news cameras leave, rural people are left on their own. Drug abuse goes up, and so does domestic violence. We lost many people to suicide after Katrina. In Florida and Georgia, where Hurricane Michael did even more inland damage, people are still living in tents.
Natural disasters don’t discriminate: they kill everyone. But disaster recovery, sadly, does discriminate: poor and rural communities quickly get forgotten.
Big relief groups come in and take donations after disasters, leaving grassroots groups to do the hard work of recovery after they’re gone. In Hackleburg, Alabama, where an EF-5 tornado destroyed most of the town in 2011, a local youth ranch stepped up to the task.
I helped them network with volunteers at a community center in the mountains of Northeast Alabama, all the way across the state, to meet the needs of poor and elderly people who had lost everything.
Both areas had been hit with monster storms. But their combined resources made the recovery easier.
This is a huge gap in rural disaster recovery: local groups do the hard work, but often don’t have what they need to help people recover. That’s why I’ve set up the Rural Disaster Recovery Network, to help local nonprofits like Hometown Action connect with skilled volunteers and resources in places like Lee County.
That’s what we did in Tuscaloosa in 2011 after tornadoes killed 41 people. Twenty small nonprofits in small towns throughout Alabama came together, shared resources, and we supported each other.
I’ve seen the best of humanity come out in rural communities after disasters. Class and race, all of that goes out the window. Everybody comes together, because we’re all human beings — and that’s all that matters in the aftermath of a storm.
If we could find a way to bottle that spirit, it would solve all of our problems. There’s an opportunity in disaster relief to go into rural communities and to learn about them, learn from them, and understand them.
That is one of the hardest things we have to do — we’re so divided right now as a country. And yes, the South definitely deserves some of the flak we get for this. But disasters don’t discriminate, and we shouldn’t either.
I was going through rural Jackson County, Alabama after the tornadoes in 2011, and there was a guy whose house was blown down. He was living in a tent in his front yard. We stopped to see if he needed any help, and he just smiled and said, “I’m fine. Go down the road and check on someone else.”
That’s the best of the rural spirit. I’ve witnessed overt racism and bigotry in Alabama, but I’ve also seen Blacks and whites cry together, holding each other, after big storms. There’s a lot more nuance to the South, and a growing movement of people who want change.
In disaster recovery, there’s an opportunity to bring people together, sow seeds of kindness, and start enacting real change here.
Warren Alan Tidwell has worked on disaster relief efforts in the South for 20 years. He’s a member of Hometown Action, part of the People’s Action network. Distributed by OtherWords.org.