Supply drive started for flood victims

A house in western Iowa is is shown here underwater.
A house in western Iowa is is shown here underwater.

A Fairfield woman has organized a supply drive to help her hometown in Western Iowa recover from the devastating flood.

The floods have killed four people, left one missing and caused more than $1 billion dollars in damage to crops, livestock and roads, according to a Reuters report.

Katy Anderson, who is also a member of the Fairfield City Council, is gathering donations in a drive she has dubbed, “What They’ll Need When the Waters Recede.” The list includes most cleaning supplies such as brooms, mops, buckets, scrub brushes, sponges, trash bags, bleach, vinegar, Clorox wipes, work gloves, Pine Sol and Lysol. Those who wish to contribute can drop off these items at Iowa State Bank in Fairfield. Anderson was born in Hamburg, a town of about 1,000 people just 1 mile from the Missouri border and 5 miles from the Missouri River. It is one of the towns hardest hit by flood waters that wreaked havoc last weekend and have yet to recede.

“The entire downtown is underwater,” Anderson said. “Casey’s has gas pumps half-covered in water. People here might not understand that I-29 on the western side of the state is closed for miles and miles because it’s underwater. You can’t even see the interstate in aerial photos.”

Anderson said she’s gathering cleaning supplies for the area because she feels that other organizations are handling housing and clothing. She plans to fill her Yukon SUV with these supplies and drive it to Hamburg and Pacific Junction, another flooded town in western Iowa about 23 miles south of Council Bluffs.

“My goal is to head over the first or second weekend in April,” Anderson said.

Incomprehensible destruction

Anderson said it’s hard to comprehend the extent of the damage. Aerial photos have shown grain bins being swept away.

“That’s somebody’s fall harvest floating down the river,” Anderson said. “I’ve seen videos of people paddling canoes by homes, pulling pets out of windows.”

Nearly everyone in Anderson’s family, from her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, live in either western Iowa or eastern Nebraska. Luckily, they are all safe now, but some of them have experienced horrendous flood damage.

“My cousin sent me a picture that the water is right below their roof line,” Anderson said. “I can’t even grasp what you do when you go home after that. Do you tear out all the dry wall and electrical?”

Anderson said that cousin is staying with another relative in the area. She said flooding from the Missouri River has affected Pacific Junction and Hamburg. The town of Riverton was flooded from a smaller river called the Nishnabotna.

“These little towns knew that the flooding was coming, but it happened a lot faster than they thought,” Anderson said. “Hamburg tried to sandbag to protect the downtown, but the water came so fast they had to abandon that and get themselves out.”

On Friday night, Anderson’s parents drove to a friend’s house to help them pack because they knew the flood was coming. However, they found that many of the roads between their house and the friend’s house were covered in water. A drive that normally took 45 minutes took them 2.5 hours.

Anderson said one of the casualties in the flooding occurred near Riverton, where a person tried to drive around a barricade and was swept away by the floodwaters.

Rain expected this weekend

According to the National Weather Service, the flooding is expected to last into next week, as rain and melted snow flow into Kansas, Missouri and Mississippi.

Floods driven by melting snow in the Dakotas will persist even as Nebraska and Iowa dig out from the recent storms.

“It’s already not looking good downstream for the middle and lower Mississippi and Missouri [rivers] into Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri,” Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center, said early Wednesday.

The floodwaters have inundated a swath of Iowa and Nebraska along the Missouri River, North America’s longest river. Half of Iowa’s 99 counties have declared states of emergency.

“That snow pack is still there and it’s going to keep melting, and that’s bad news,” Oravec said.

About an inch of rain is predicted for Saturday in the region, Oravec said. “It’s not a lot, but any precipitation is bad right now.”

Vice President Mike Pence toured some of Nebraska Tuesday and promised to help expedite federal help to the region.

Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin and Mississippi all declared states of emergency after the floods, which stemmed from a powerful winter hurricane last week. The flooding killed livestock, destroyed grains and soybeans in storage and cut off access to farms because of road and rail damage.

Authorities said they had rescued nearly 300 people in Nebraska alone, with some rivers continuing to rise. Rescuers could be seen in boats pulling pets from flooded homes. Some roadways crumbled to rubble and sections of others were submerged. In Hamburg, Iowa, floodwaters covered buildings.

$1 billion in damages

Nebraska officials estimated flood damage for the state’s agriculture at more than $1 billion so far, according to Craig Head, vice president of issue management at the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Head said that was likely to grow as floodwaters recede.

“It’s really too early to know for sure how bad this is going to get. But one thing we do know: It’s catastrophic for farmers,” said Matt Perdue, government relations director for the National Farmers Union. “We’re hoping it’s only $1 billion, but that’s only a hope.”

Nebraska officials estimate the floods have also caused $553 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, and $89 million to privately owned assets, according to the state’s Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday.

The water covered about a third of Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, home to the U.S. Strategic Command, whose responsibilities include defending against and responding to nuclear attacks.

The Army Corps of Engineers is distributing 400,000 sandbags to operators of 12 levees along the Missouri River in Missouri and Kansas that are threatened by flooding, the Army Corps said in a news release on Tuesday.

Roads leading to the Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper nuclear plant near Brownville were engulfed by floodwaters from the Missouri, but the facility was still operating safely at full power on Tuesday.

The plant operator was flying staff members and supplies to the plant by helicopter, power district spokesman Mark Becker said.

Contributing to this report were Rich McKay in Atlanta; aren Dillon in Brownville, Neb., Gina Cherelus in New York, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, P.J. Huffstutter and Mark Weinraub in Chicago, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, and Larry King.