Pence to survey damage after deadly flood hits US Midwest

Homes are surrounded by floodwater from the Pecatonica River in Freeport, Illinois, on Monday. — AFP

WASHINGTON — At least one person was missing on Monday after devastating floods across the US Midwest that killed three others and inflicted hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in what Nebraska’s governor called a disaster of historic proportions.

As floodwaters began to recede in much of the area inundated by the aftermath of a storm dubbed a “bomb cyclone,” Nebraska officials were taking in the damage in a state where 64 of the 93 counties have declared emergencies.

“This is clearly the most widespread disaster we have had in our state’s history,” in terms of sheer size, Governor Pete Ricketts told reporters on an afternoon briefing call.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence was due to travel to Nebraska on Tuesday to tour the devastation left by floods in the Midwest which have killed at least four people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Media reports including CNN say that 74 of Nebraska’s 93 counties had declared states of emergency by early Tuesday.

“This is clearly the most widespread disaster we have had in our state’s history,” in terms of sheer size, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts told reporters on Monday afternoon.

Ricketts will join Pence as he surveys the damage, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Twitter late on Monday. Pence was traveling at US President Donald Trump’s request, she said.

The flood waters have been driven by snow melt from heavy rains last week and warm temperatures, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“Most of the snow pack in Nebraska is now gone, but up river in North and South Dakota, there’s significant snow pack of up to 20 plus inches and it’s melting,” he said.

The Missouri River, the longest in North America, has flooded much of Nebraska between Omaha and Kansas City at the Missouri state line.

The river was expected to crest at 47.5 feet (14.48 m) on Tuesday, breaking the previous record, set in 2011, by more than a foot, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said in the latest bulletin on its web page.

State officials said on the call that 290 people had been rescued by the Nebraska State Patrol, National Guard troops, and urban search and rescue teams.

Damage to the state’s livestock sector was estimated at about $400 million, while the full impact on the spring planting season was not yet clear, said Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

The state’s highway system suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, said Kyle Schneweis, director of the state Department of Transportation, with more than 200 miles of roadways needing repair or replacement. Some 540 miles of highways remained closed, he said, down from 1,500 at the peak of flooding.

The three known fatalities included an 80-year-old woman who perished at her Columbus, Nebraska, home, despite attempts to rescue her from rising floodwaters, said Colonel John Bolduc of the Nebraska State Patrol.

Bolduc said a young man from Norfolk, Nebraska, was swept away and killed after driving his car into moving water, and a Columbus man died when the tractor he was using to help free a stranded driver overturned.

Ricketts said he had requested emergency assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and been in contact with the Trump administration. — Reuters