Flooding continues to ravage parts of Nebraska, Iowa; communities brace as water heads downstream

Flooding continues to ravage parts of Nebraska, Iowa; communities brace as water heads downstream
Kenny Staskiewicz, left, hugs his son, Bo, 10, while taking a break as volunteers filling sandbags on Main St. in Plattsmouth (World-Herald News Service)

Let Fremont be a warning.

Floodwaters there cut off all roads in and out of town starting Friday. Two levees were breached Saturday.

So residents know all too well about washed-out roads. They heard the flash flood warnings blaring from cellphones. They left their homes behind and ended up on cots in community centers or churches.

And all that could be an ominous sign of what’s to come in parts of southeastern Nebraska and western Iowa as record-busting water levels continue to push huge torrents of water downstream.

Similar scenarios have played out from Columbus to Wood River to Plattsmouth. Levees breaching. Rivers, lakes and creeks swelling. And people in the way forced to make critical decisions: Should I stay or should I go?

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts estimated Saturday that one-third of the state has been affected by floods, largely the eastern third. Fifty-two counties and two American Indian tribes have issued emergency declarations in the aftermath of a storm that stretched across the Midwest but hit Nebraska and neighboring areas of South Dakota and Iowa hardest with flooding.

Ricketts and other state officials said people in the path of possible floodwaters should consider leaving pre-emptively — don’t wait to be told to evacuate and risk being trapped or in need of rescue.

In Waterloo, sandwiched between the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers, people were stranded, said a local pastor, Mike Bitter of the Christian Church of Waterloo.

“There is no way out of here unless you’ve got a helicopter — or a boat,” Bitter said.

(Later on Saturday, it wasn’t quite a helicopter that would help some people, but the Union Pacific Railroad, with vehicles that took people in Waterloo and elsewhere along its train lines to safety.)

In Fremont, where the Platte River swelled, evacuees included Cristofer Sanchez, 16, who grabbed clothes, shoes and his PlayStation — “the essentials,” he joked — on Friday. On Saturday, he joined the sandbag line at a flooded stretch of Old Highway 275.

“It hasn’t been stopping,” he said of the water creeping into town. Sanchez is staying with a friend while he’s away from home.

On Friday night, the American Red Cross sheltered almost 900 people, and more shelters opened Saturday. By early Saturday evening, the shelters in Fremont alone counted up to 1,100 people, with more evacuees expected from Snyder, Nebraska. And those numbers don’t capture the swaths of people riding out the flood in hotel rooms or crashing on the couches of family and friends.

Those who decided to evacuate left by plane, train line and automobile. There were departures by boat, by airboat and by massive military vehicles with jacked-up frames capable of cruising through waterlogged roads.

On Saturday afternoon, Union Pacific started transporting people who were evacuating the flooded Waterloo and Valley areas to the safety of Elkhorn. Evacuees were being transported by high-rail vehicles along U.P.’s rail lines to Elkhorn Middle School.

With road travel in and out of Fremont still impossible Saturday, some turned to the sunny blue skies, paying for short flights out of the city of 26,000 that became an island surrounded by water.

Some parents who work in Omaha found themselves on the wrong side of the Elkhorn River on Friday, with children in day care or at home on their first day of spring break marooned in Fremont.

So Advanced Air of Council Bluffs ferried children to parents in Omaha. One flight in pilot Nicholas Oliveira’s four-seater Piper Arrow held a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old.

Gavins Point releases to drop even more; water tops Missouri River levee near Hamburg

UPDATE 7 p.m.: Douglas County West Community Schools has cancelled classes for the entire week. Superintendent Melissa Poloncic said the Unified Command, which is in charge of the emergency operations for the county, has asked the district to cancel classes.

The majority of the district’s families have evacuated, and officials want to be sure families stay out of the area until it is safe to return, she said.

“We have no roadways, there is no way in and hardly any way out,” she said of the district’s campus in Valley.

Additionally, the boiler room of the old elementary school has been damaged, she said.

Nearly 980 students are enrolled in the district.

UPDATE, 6 p.m.: Releases from Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota have been reduced to 43,000 cubic feet per second, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. At one point in the past week, Gavins Point releases surged as high as 100,000 cfs.

* * * 

UPDATE, 3:40 p.m.: While Hamburg, Iowa, residents tried to shore up parts of their town with sandbags, swelling Missouri River waters topped a levee to the west of town shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday.

* * * 

UPDATE, 3:35 p.m.: Boyd County, Nebraska, which was considered part of South Dakota before 1895, might feel that way again after flooding closed the three main bridges across the Niobrara River to the rest of Nebraska.

Bridges south of Butte and Spencer are closed, and the so-called “Mormon” bridge in Niobrara washed away.

“Maybe they’ll adopt us,” Kyle Krotter, a member of the Spencer Village Board, said of South Dakota.

One man is missing and presumed dead. He lived in a home just below the 91-year-old Spencer Dam, which collapsed Thursday morning, sweeping away the home, a straw-bale tavern and a bait shop.

On Sunday, Krotter and others were working to collect bottled water for residents of the Spencer and Lynch areas. The water main that supplied those areas, located below the Niobrara, was snapped.

More than 60 families were displaced by flooding from the Ponca Creek in Lynch. Deliveries of food and other goods are now diverting through South Dakota to the area.

UPDATE, 2:43 p.m.: Chunks of ice up to 2 feet thick acted like bulldozers in the floodwaters at Niobrara, Nebraska, battering down walls and crumpling metal Quonset huts like cellophane.

“It’s total devastation. The ice just destroyed everything,” said Laura Sucha, as she surveyed what’s left of the Country Cafe, a popular eatery she’s owned since 2015.

A local gas station, storage complex and state roads garage were among the buildings wrecked in the ice, which left piles 6- to 10-feet high in places around the town, located where the Niobrara River flows into the Missouri River.

The bridge between the town and Niobrara State Park was blown out, and the city is working to restore drinking water to local residents.

About 35 miles upstream is Spencer Dam, which collapsed Thursday morning, sending a wall of ice and water toward Niobrara.

“It just looked like the end of the world coming,” said Mayor Jody Stark. He said it may be two weeks before the drinking water system is repaired, recharged and disinfected.

* * * 

UPDATE, 1:45 p.m.: Volunteers and donations are still needed.

On Sunday, Omaha metro area residents were streaming into a donation center to drop off items for flood victims. The Salvation Army has set up the collection and distribution center at the old Canfield’s sporting goods store near 84th Street and West Center Road. The center will be open until 7 p.m. Sunday. The schedule for Monday hasn’t been set. The agency is suggesting donations of flood cleanup and flood relief items such as shovels, masks, disinfectant, tarps, bottled water and sports drinks. Volunteers are still needed at sites throughout the recovery effort. To sign up, call 402-898-6050 or visit registertoring.com.

* * * 

UPDATE, 1:15 p.m.: Classes have been canceled for Monday at all three Douglas County West schools due to flooding, the superintendent said Sunday.

The campus is inaccessible, said Melissa Poloncic. Groundwater is also coming up in the school’s boiler room, she said.

“We’ll take it one day at time,” Poloncic said. “The water is coming up in our boiler room but the school is otherwise dry.”

UPDATE, 12:55 p.m.: The Elkhorn River has dropped at the Maple Street bridge near Waterloo, the town’s fire chief said Sunday.

“I can’t speak to other parts of the river, but it has dropped at the bridge,” Chief Travis Harlow said.

Members of the Waterloo Fire Department continue to respond to medical emergencies and make evacuations as needed, he said. Harlow said the Douglas County 911 dispatchers have been a great asset during the emergency.

* * * 

UPDATE, 12:45 p.m.: The Omaha metro area’s drinking water remains drinkable, Metropolitan Utilities District reiterated Sunday in a statement. The utility takes water from the Missouri River and from aquifers in the Platte River valley. Both rivers are flooding. In the statement, MUD said its water, which is tested daily, continues to meet all state and federal standards.

Rumors have been swirling about the utility’s water and the utility has been issuing statements in an effort to tamp those down.

Omaha, Bellevue, Bennington, Carter Lake, La Vista, Ralston, Waterloo and Fort Calhoun get their water from MUD’s treatment plants. The Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District is the conduit for the water going to Fort Calhoun.

* * * 

UPDATE, 12:10 p.m.: Valmont Industries, which is located near Valley, Nebraska, will be closed on Monday due to issues related to access to the plant. Decisions about subsequent days will be made day-to-day.

* * * 

UPDATE, 11:50 a.m.: A Nebraska National Guard convoy loaded with food and other supplies from Lincoln is expected to arrive Sunday in Fremont between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Mayor Scott Getzschman said the convoy will distribute the supplies to the city’s five active shelters. The trucks will roll into town on U.S. Highway 275, which is open now to emergency vehicles only, he said.

“We’ve stabilized the situation short term, and we are planning for the beginning of the week,” Getzschman said. “The teamwork and collaboration of the people of Fremont has been an amazing sight.”

Getzschman said the city’s shelters have been home to about 450 people during the day, swelling to 800 or 900 at night.

* * * 

UPDATE, 11:15 a.m.;  By late Saturday on Fremont “island,” you couldn’t get bottled water.

Walmart had sold out of all but the kiddie and electric toothbrushes. By 10 p.m., there were only two pairs of rubber boots — men’s, both size 10 — on the shelves. No bananas on the shelves, either.

Hy-Vee still seemed like a horn of plenty, though it, too, had run out of individually bottled water. Worries that Fremont’s municipal water supply would be compromised by the flood had caused a rush. It’s fine so far. Both Hy-Vee and Walmart still had ways to fill up water jugs.

“Want five gallons?” the Walmart greeter asked.

* * * 

UPDATE, 11:10 a.m.: Saunders County authorities continued a mandatory evacuation Sunday of residents in several lake communities after a levee along the Platte River was breached Saturday.

The levee is about a quarter-mile north of County Road F, said Terry Miller, director of Saunders County emergency management. The breach resulted in flooding of the rural area south of County Road F to Camp Ashland Road and as far west as Nebraska Highway 66, he said.

Communities affected included Big Sandy Lake, Lake Allure, Thomas Lakes and Sandy Pointe Lake.

* * * 

UPDATE. 10:30 a.m.: Columbus is no longer an island, but it may be a peninsula, said Mayor Jim Bulkley.

A circuitous route is needed to go south from the Platte County city, Bulkley said. Motorists aiming for Omaha today must go north on U.S. Highway 81 and then west on Nebraska 91.

Vehicles can start heading south at Albion on state or county roads. Motorists will eventually reach Interstate 80 just east of Grand Island.

“It’s about a three-hour route for a trip that usually takes an hour,” Bulkley said. “You can also go north to Norfolk, but I’m still not sure how you get down to Omaha by going east.”

Bulkley said stores in Columbus have been receiving groceries, gas and other supplies via roundabout routes into town since Friday.

“We’ve been blessed with how we’ve come through this (flood),” Bulkley said. “I know a lot of people have been hurt but it could’ve been worse.”

When floodwaters do recede, Bulkley said, motorists need to wait for roads to be cleared by the state’s Roads Department before using them. Floodwaters have caused damage to roads and bridges that could make them unsafe, he said.

“The Loup River bridge needs to be assessed by the state,” Bulkley said. “We’re hoping they can make that assessment today.”

Louisville Sewer Plan running normal

The Louisville sewer plant is now in “good shape,” according to officials. They can now handle are normal flow. Residents can now use more water.

Nebraska should qualify for federal disaster relief

As he toured an emergency shelter in Fremont, Ricketts rattled off sobering statistics: At least one person is dead and two more missing in Nebraska. In Iowa, one person drowned Friday night when a car drove past a barricade and hit water.

Scores of towns have experienced some sort of evacuation. Untold bridges and roads would need to be replaced or shored up. Levees will need to be fixed.

It’s too early to say how much of a hit the state took and what it will cost to rebuild lost homes, businesses, roads and bridges. What seems certain is that the inevitable cleanup will require a massive turnout of workers, residents and volunteers.

Ricketts has said the damage is widespread enough that the state should have no problem qualifying for federal disaster aid.

Both Ricketts and Sen. Ben Sasse, whose own Fremont-area home was taking in water, said Saturday that they had been in contact with President Donald Trump in the past 24 hours. Sasse said he had also spoken to Vice President Mike Pence.

Ricketts said that when he was flying to Fremont, it was hard to tell where the Platte River’s channel was supposed to be. Ricketts offered caution: Don’t drive into water, he said. Don’t do it.

Some law enforcement agencies, including the Omaha Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said they would ticket anyone driving around or through barricades on closed roads.

‘We’re just smashing some records’

Everyone’s still keeping a wary eye on the levels of the Platte and Missouri Rivers.

On the bright side, if you could call it that, the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers were cresting or had crested by Saturday night.

The Platte River at Louisville, Nebraska, was near its expected crest late Saturday afternoon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Weather Service officials said during a conference call with state, local and tribal officials. But the Platte was still well above record levels Saturday night.

Near Columbus, Nebraska, the Loup River has dropped by about 6 feet since yesterday, said Columbus and Platte County Emergency Management Director Tim Hofbauer.

There is no flooding within Columbus, he said. Still, residents have been heavily sandbagging spots, especially near lakes.

But the Missouri River south of Omaha continues to build steam. Major flooding was occurring — or forecast to occur — on the Missouri River between Nebraska City and St. Joseph, Missouri, said Kevin Low, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Significant stretches of levees from just north of the confluence with the Platte River south to near Rulo, Nebraska, had begun overtopping Saturday afternoon. Several breaches were also reported on the Missouri, including one north of Plattsmouth, one on the Iowa side of the river west of Hamburg, Iowa, and one 3 miles upstream of Brownville, Nebraska.

It could be days before water levels lower on those portions of the Missouri.

By Friday afternoon, the Missouri at Plattsmouth had reached 40.5 feet — well above the previous record of 36.7 feet set during the massive flood in 2011.

The Elkhorn River at Waterloo had crested twice by Saturday, climbing to 24.63 feet Saturday afternoon, 5½ feet higher than the previous record from 1962.

“We’re just smashing some records on the big boys, the Missouri and the Platte,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Jeremy Wesely.

Sandbags and a wiped-out Salvation Army camp

Airmen at Offutt Air Force Base filled up to 100,000 sandbags Friday and Saturday in a last-ditch effort to block floodwaters that are covering much of the southeastern part of the base.

An aerial photo, posted by 55th Wing Commander Col. Michael Manion on his Facebook page, showed that the Missouri River had crept up to the southeast end of Offutt’s single runway. A lake, campground and baseball fields were underwater, and several buildings south of the runway are surrounded. Water was coming toward the Strategic Command gate to the airbase on Capehart Road.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army’s Gene Eppley Camp, which sits on 118 acres just south of Omaha near U.S. Highway 75, appears to be a total loss after the nearby Platte River flooded.

“Water levels have reached all the way up to the roofs of the cabins and other buildings,” Salvation Army spokesman Todd Andrews said.

About 3,400 people were scheduled to use the camp this year, which for decades has been a year-round camp.

Forecast offers glimmer of hope

It’s not all doom and gloom.

As long as no new ice jams occur, the region will catch a breather over the next few days, with sunshine in the forecast.

But in the long term, the region remains at an elevated risk of flooding because soil is saturated, rivers are high and spring is a rainy time of year.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said that in Omaha, the Missouri River levee appears to be holding. The projected crest of the river at Omaha on Sunday should be 1½ feet lower than the highest point during the 2011 flood.

“We are monitoring the Omaha levee 24 hours a day by drone and on-site inspections,” she said. “The levee remains safe.”

The Metropolitan Utilities District, which provides water to much of the Omaha area, is monitoring conditions on the Missouri and Platte Rivers as floodwaters rise and spark some concerns about contaminants. The utility said Saturday that drinking water is safe. The City of Lincoln said its water was also safe.

Record snowfall, ‘historic’ bomb cyclone are forces behind devastating floods, blizzard

An eerie, thick fog settled over Nebraska and Iowa on Tuesday.

Wisps of moisture drifted up from this winter’s record-setting snow piled along driveways and streets, blanketing cornfields and yards.

The fog was bringing an early warning: a powerful cyclone was arriving.

In popular culture it’s known as bombogenesis, or a bomb cyclone, an epic drop in air pressure that triggers historic weather.

By itself, the moisture-filled storm would not have dealt Nebraska the crippling blow that has occurred. Our harsh, late winter set the stage. When the two combined, they produced Nebraska’s worst flooding in 50 years and worst blizzard in nearly as many years.

“This storm can be considered historic,” said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center. “This was a monster, no question about it.”

As the storm roared to life over the Great Plains, it set an apparent record for low pressure in Colorado, set records for snows in Wyoming and Nebraska and shattered flood records in eastern Nebraska.

“It just kind of blew up over you,” Carbin said.

Carbin and other meteorologists say the storm’s genesis is well understood: It’s a seasonal phenomenon that draws its power from the volatile currents in the atmosphere as spring jostles with winter.

As the bomb cyclone ensued, weather satellite images showed what appeared to be a land-based hurricane.

The 1- to 3-inch rainfall the storm delivered wasn’t extraordinary. But it fell on snow rich with water. In Omaha, several inches of snow remained on the ground, remnants of the 30 inches that had fallen since early February, itself a record-setting month for snow.

Across eastern Nebraska, locked in that snow was 1 to 3 inches of water, according to the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center. Beneath that snow was frozen ground — unable to absorb the runoff. In a sense, eastern Nebraska was one big concrete parking lot, and the equivalent of a 2- to 6-inch rainfall was about to wash off it.

As if that weren’t bad enough, there wasn’t the usual amount of room in eastern Nebraska’s rivers. They were already high as they continued to drain away last fall’s abundant rains. For Nebraska, September through February was the fifth-wettest fall-winter in 124 years of records, said Dan Pydynowski, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc., The World-Herald’s weather consultant.

And to top it off, the last half of winter had been so cold; Nebraska had its eighth-coldest February in 124 years, Iowa its 15th. Those rivers were covered by sheets of ice up to 20 inches thick.

As runoff washed off frozen ground, it lifted the ice sheets up, broke them into huge slabs that banged downstream and eventually clogged together in ice jams, some several miles long.

Instant dams of ice.

Water surged over riverbanks into farm fields, rushed into homesteads, swept into towns. Even without ice jams, flooding would have occurred, but the jams made it all the more sudden, capricious and terrifying.

By the time it moved out, last week’s storm had stretched from Texas to Canada and from the Rockies toward the Great Lakes. Multiple states were affected not only by flooding but by blizzards, deadly fog, damaging straight-line winds, even tornadoes.

Nebraska and neighboring areas of South Dakota and Iowa were the hardest hit by flooding.

Bomb cyclones likely have been a part of the planet’s weather system for many millennia. And Nebraska is known for having — over the course of its four seasons — some of the most extreme combinations and types of weather on the planet.

But human-caused climate change is warming the planet at an accelerating pace, and that has set the stage for even more extreme weather.

“For sure, the strongest storms are getting stronger with global warming,” said noted climate scientist James Hansen, a native of Iowa. As the Earth warms, its atmosphere has become richer with moisture, which means there’s more latent energy for storms to tap.

Some studies indicate that the factors that led to the type of storm that struck the Great Plains last week are increasing, said Michael Mann, director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center.

“There is evidence now in modeling studies that climate change is increasing these factors, supporting the development of more intense bomb cyclones and Nor’easters, packing tropical storm-scale winds and dumping huge amounts of precipitation (often in the form of huge snowfalls).”

Additionally, one of the best understood consequences of global warming is the trend toward heavy rains and snows. That’s what happens on a planet that is more humid.

Winters also are changing in Nebraska. Rain on frozen ground is becoming more likely, the state’s climatologists say. And there’s a trend toward a harsher end to winter, despite overall warming.

Last month was Omaha’s snowiest February on record and one of the 10 coldest. This change in winter has increased the potential for a buildup of snow and ice just as spring arrives. The consequence? A greater potential for widespread flooding.

“It makes us more vulnerable,” said John Pollack, a retired National Weather Service meteorologist.

The power of last week’s storm also pulled phenomenal amounts of warmth and moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico, Pollack said. That’s why western Nebraska got 10 inches to 20 inches of snow — Scottsbluff set a daily record with 12 inches Wednesday. It’s why so much rain fell across Nebraska. And with climate change, the Gulf of Mexico is warming, which means it will continue to surcharge the atmosphere with moisture.

“Disasters have become more likely to happen,” Pollack said. “Our risk is changing, the risk of flooding is getting worse.”

World-Herald staff writers Alia Conley, Steve Liewer, Nancy Gaarder, Rick Ruggles, Susan Szalewski, Alli Davis and Brad Davis contributed to this report.

Offutt fights rising waters

Airmen at Offutt Air Force Base filled up to 100,000 sandbags in a last-ditch effort to block flood waters that are covering much of the southeastern part of the base.

An aerial photo, posted by 55th Wing Commander Col. Michael Manion on his Facebook page, showed the Missouri River had crept up to the southeast end of Offutt’s single runway. A lake, campground, and baseball fields were under water, and several buildings south of the runway are surrounded. Water also is coming toward the StratCom Gate to the airbase on Capehart Road.

“Water is entering from the river and through the storm drains,” Manion wrote in the post Saturday afternoon. “Several buildings including the (55th) Wing Building are inundated with water. We continue to work as rapidly as possible to improve water defenses around critical infrastructure.”

Several RC-135-variant reconnaissance aircraft were flown out to other bases Saturday evening.

Photos showed water had reached the hangar that houses the 595th Command and Control Group, which operates the Air Force’s fleet of four E-4B Nightwatch airborne command post jets.

The Air Force flew in a 740-foot length of 4-foot Aqua Dam barriers from Louisiana to deploy around another building that houses the 55th Wing’s expensive flight simulators.

Meanwhile, Manion said power to the base has not been interrupted.

The water was expected to crest near the base late Saturday, Manion said.

***

Evacuation order issued for parts of Saunders County

The Saunders County, Nebraska, Sheriff’s Office announced an emergency evacuation order Saturday evening.

The county’s emergency management agency said the following communities must evacuate due to an “imminent levee failure” along the Platte River:

>> Thomas Lakes

>> Lake Allure

>> Big Sandy

>> Sandy Pointe

>> Wann

The Sheriff’s Office said emergency personnel were facilitating the evacuation. The Ashland Fire Department said in a tweet to “get out NOW!”

***

Salvation Army’s Gene Eppley camp is ‘total loss’ after flooding

The Salvation Army’s Gene Eppley Camp, which is just south of Omaha near U.S. Highway 75, looks to be a total loss after the nearby Platte River flooded.

The camp sits on the north bank of the Platte between Bellevue and Plattsmouth. It was inundated by floodwaters on Saturday, a Salvation Army spokesman said.

“Water levels have reached all the way up to the roofs of the cabins and other buildings,” said Todd Andrews, the spokesman.

An initial survey of the property indicates the Eppley camp, which sits on 118 acres, is a “total loss,” the Salvation Army said.

Some 3,400 people were scheduled to use the camp this year, which for decades has been a year-round camp.

The Salvation Army said it is looking for volunteers to assist with flood-relief efforts. To volunteer, people can call 402-989-6050. People also can donate by going to a special website set up for flood disaster relief.

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U.P. evacuates people from Waterloo and Valley using rail lines; curfew enacted

On Saturday afternoon, Union Pacific began to transport people who were evacuating the flooded Waterloo and Valley areas to the safety of Elkhorn.

Evacuees were being transported by so-called high-rail vehicles along U.P.’s rail lines. They were being taken to Elkhorn Middle School.

Douglas County, the city of Omaha and other government agencies working under the area’s Unified Command for emergencies were working with Union Pacific to arrange the evacuation, according to a county spokeswoman.

At the school, kennels and pet food will be available from the Nebraska Humane Society, as will services from the American Red Cross. Medical and behavioral health professionals also have been requested, the county said. The Omaha Police Department will provide security.

Meanwhile, the Unified Command said an 8 p.m. curfew would be enacted for Valley and Waterloo. The U.P. operations also will stop at 8 p.m. Rescues also will stop at that time, the county said, so if residents haven’t been rescued from their homes by then, they should “shelter in place” until morning. Rescues will begin again on Sunday at sunrise, the county said. Residents with emergencies still can call 911.

***

No flooding in city of Columbus as residents sandbag

The Loup River has dropped by about six feet since yesterday, said Columbus and Platte County emergency management director Tim Hofbauer.

There is no flooding within the city of Columbus, he said. Still, residents have been sandbagging the area for weeks, especially around the lake areas. “The levee helped in Columbus,” Hofbauer said. “We love our levee.”

The Nebraska Task Force One swift water rescue team worked Thursday and Friday, and Nebraska National Guard medevac units arrived in the area around 7 p.m. Thursday. The unofficial rescue count is 48, Hofbauer said, but he’s not sure what the number is for pet rescues.

“Our biggest concern out in the rural areas is that the county roads are extremely soft and muddy,” Hofbauer said. If anyone has to travel, he advised them to use extreme caution and not drive through any water.

***

M.U.D. monitoring river conditions; drinking water still safe, utility says

The Metropolitan Utilities District of Omaha, which provides water to much of the Omaha metropolitan area, is monitoring conditions on the Missouri and Platte Rivers as flood waters rise and spark some concerns about contaminants.

The utility said drinking water is safe. It still meets or exceeds all state and federal standards based on more than 1,000 tests a day, the utility said.

“Precautions are in place to protect the reliability of our water treatment and distribution systems,” the utility said in a statement. “We are closely monitoring all of our facilities and have contingency plans in place to address any issues that might occur.”

In Lincoln, the city said its water also was safe. The Lincoln Water System sources its water from ground water, which isn’t at risk from contamination in a flood, the city said.

***

Governor: Evacuate now if you’re in the path of floodwaters

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Saturday morning that what’s happening is an ominous sign for those downstream, who are likely to face flooding.

Ricketts and other state officials said people should consider leaving preemptively — don’t wait to be told to evacuate.

And the National Weather Service said areas like Ashland and Plattsmouth still face trouble Saturday as the Platte and Missouri Rivers continue to rise.

“We’re just smashing some records on the big boys, the Missouri and the Platte,” said meteorologist Jeremy Wesely.

Water levels on the Platte, Missouri and Elkhorn Rivers have crested or are projected to crest Saturday.

In Sarpy County, a string of river and lake communities near Bellevue and the Platte River were evacuated, including Hanson Lakes, Chris Lake and Betty Lake. Residents of Hawaiian Village, north of Papillion, and Villa Springs, south of Springfield, were urged to evacuate immediately to avoid being stranded by rising waters and road closures.

Water levels were expected to keep rising over into Sunday and possibly Monday.

***

No disruption to flights at Eppley Airfield

The Omaha Airport Authority said Saturday that flight operations at Eppley Airfield have not been affected by flooding, though travelers should be mindful of regional road closures if coming to Eppley Airfield.”

***

Mills County evacuation issued; I-29 closed in some places

Mills County, Iowa, officials expanded an evacuation notice Saturday morning for residents near the Missouri River who live east of the Loess Hills, said Sheri Bowen, a spokeswoman. Residents should evacuate by 5 p.m. Saturday.

A shelter has been set up at Salem United Methodist Church in Council Bluffs.

Meanwhile, the county has requested volunteers to help with a sandbag-filling effort on Sunday. It will begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday at Al Hughes Auction, 21929 S. 221st St. in Glenwood. Volunteers can get more information by calling 712-527-3107.

***

Don’t sightsee the floodwaters, authorities warn

City of Omaha officials urged residents not to “sightsee” the flooded rivers or drive through barricades in western Douglas County.

Omaha police officers will be along the Missouri River levee in the city limits to prevent anyone from nearing the dangerous floodwaters.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office also plans to ticket anyone driving around barricades on closed roads around Valley and Waterloo, said Capt. Wayne Hudson.

***

Nearly 900 Nebraskans in temporary shelters

Nearly 900 residents were staying in 18 American Red Cross shelters as of Saturday morning, according to a post from a Nebraska National Guard official.

The Red Cross, the National Guard and state emergency crews are distributing four semi-trucks worth of water donated by grocer Hy-Vee. Communities that need clean drinking water should contact their local emergency management agency for more information on how to receive water.

For more information on shelters and efforts underway to help flooding victims, click here.

***

Check for road closures, bridge washouts before traveling

The Nebraska Department of Transportation reported a number of bridges connected to the state highway system have been washed out and are damaged and impassable.

Click here to see the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s live map, or dial 511 to get the latest on road closures. To see Douglas County road closures, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert recommended checking dogis.org/closedroads

* * *

Nebraska rivers hit record levels

A few rivers have hit record levels as National Weather Service meteorologists caution that water levels will continue to rise for the next several days.

No additional moisture is expected in the coming days that will add to the totals, other than a low chance of snow Monday night, said weather service meteorologist Dave Eastlack.

nd of receding until mid- or late next week,” he said.

The Missouri River at Plattsmouth hit a record high of 40.5 feet on Saturday at midmorning. The Platte River near Leshara is dropping after it reached 12.23 feet over Thursday night, which beat the last historical crest.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects the Missouri River at Omaha to crest at 33.7 feet by Sunday, but City of Omaha officials said the river is not expected to compromise the 13 miles of levee it controls.

ACCUWEATHER FORECAST 

STORM CLOSINGS AND CANCELLATIONS

ROAD CONDITIONS

Nebraska

Iowa

Missouri

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