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Hundreds Evacuated in Historic Flooding in Nebraska, Iowa as Swollen Waterways Threaten Dams, Levees

Mar 15, 2019 07:17AM ● By Editor

By Pam Wright and Ron Brackett of - March 14, 2019

Flooding from heavy rain and a melting snowpack is threatening towns across the Midwest, swelling waterways to historic levels in places, compromising flood protections and triggering evacuations for hundreds of residents in Nebraska and Iowa.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday signed an emergency disaster proclamation that allows state resources to be used in response to flooding in the state. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts had issued an Emergency Declaration on Tuesday.

Just before 11 a.m. Thursday, the residents of Hornick in western Iowa were ordered to evacuate immediately because of a levee breach on the West Fork of the Little Sioux River.

"They gave us about 10 minutes, so you just grab the things you need the most," Catie Newman told the Des Moines Register.

Sheriff's deputies and fire fighters went door to door warning the residents, the Sioux City Journal reported.

Newman, who is disaster response coordinator for the Iowa United Methodist Church and pastor of churches in Hornick and Salix, said tree branches and chunks of ice were floating across the plains around the town of about 200 people about 30 miles southeast of Sioux City. "Many of the fields are filled with water as far as the eye can see," she said.

"Really all we can do right now is take care of one another," Newman told the Register from the Salix church where she planned to stay Thursday night.

To the north of Hornick, the town of Molville was also inundated by flood waters.

Plattsmouth, Nebraska, residents were told to restrict water use after the Plattsmouth Water Treatment Plant was inundated by rising flood waters from the Missouri River. The plant was shut down and a water emergency declared, WOWT-TV reported.

third of the 24,000 residents in Norfolk, Nebraska, were ordered to evacuate Thursday after the city's levee system "neared its top," city officials said. One person was reported missing after their car was swept away, News Channel Nebraska reported. 

“Our ability to respond to emergencies is limited. This is a real threat for us. If that levee is breached, the water is trapped in town and we’ll see flooding like we haven’t seen since 1965 and there’s nowhere for the water to go,” Norfolk Public Safety Director Shane Weidner said.

Ten people were trapped on Channel Road in Norfolk, and rescue crews had to use a boat to reach one home surrounded by flood water, KETV reported.

Earlier Thursday, people were rescued from cabins along the Platte River in Yutan, Nebraska.

According to a report by the National Weather Service, the Spencer Dam at the Niobrara River failed around 5 p.m. Wednesday, prompting the evacuation of dozens of residents.

The Knox County Sheriff's Office posted a notice on Facebook Thursday morning warning residents, noting that the dam had been "compromised." 

The Nebraska State Patrol tweeted a photo showing where a bridge on Highway 281 over the Niobrara River south of the dam had washed away. 

A hospital and nursing home were evacuated in Genoa, Nebraska, after the Loup River overtopped an intake structure at the the Loup Power Division, New Channel Nebraska reported. 

The Nebraska State Patrol was assisting with evacuations but had trouble accessing the community, News Channel Nebraska reported. The station also notes there are "no safe evacuation routes."

Residents along the Platte River from Schuyler to Ashland, Nebraska, were told to evacuate at 11 a.m., the Omaha World-Herald reported. The National Weather Service warned that a surge of water was moving down the river because of an ice jam breakup.

"Anyone living near the Platte or in the floodplain needs to get out before it’s too late," Dustin Wilcox, a spokesman for the Nebraska Association of Natural Resources Districts, told the World-Herald.

Highways 30 and 36 were closed by flooding in Washington and Douglas counties, the Washington County Sheriff's Office said. Water rescues were taking place in Arlington, Blair, Fort Calhoun and Kennard, the sheriff's office said.

At least 20 cities in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota were reporting major flooding, including in Osmond and Seward, Nebraska.

Also in Iowa, flooding closed several highways, including the closure Thursday of Interstate 680 near Council Bluffs and a portion of Interstate 29, the Associated Press reports.

Several breached levees prompted evacuations in Missouri Valley, Iowa, the AP also reports. Parts of the city were already underwater.

Officials in Holt County in northwest Missouri recommended that people living in low-lying areas near the Missouri River evacuate. Dozens of roads were closed in that corner of the state because of flooding.

A woman who fell into the swift-moving Missouri River in Bridgeton, Missouri, on Wednesday night had to cling to the roots of a tree until rescuers could pull her from the 40-degree water, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported. The woman, who was not identified, was walking her dog when she slipped off a bank and couldn't climb back up. She was in the water for about 35 minutes, the report said.

"It was pretty miraculous she held on the way she did," Assistant Chief Jim Usry of the Pattonville Fire Protection District said.

Also on Wednesday, a line of powerful storms in Texas brought damaging winds that knocked out power to tens of thousands, toppled mobile homes and ripped off roofs.

Southern portions of Kilgore, Texas, in Rusk County reported widespread damage from high winds, the Kilgore Police Department said, noting that there were many power lines down.

Rusk County Office of Emergency Management said Thursday all roads in and out of Kilgore are "severely limited."

Early Wednesday, a woman was injured after wind knocked over a mobile home onto a parked vehicle near Cleburne, Texas. The woman, who was inside the mobile home when it overturned, was transported to an area hospital, but there is no word on the extent of her injuries, the Johnson County Emergency Management tweeted.

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