About 2,000 miles of state roads — roughly 20 percent of the state road system — have been closed at some point over the last week. The flooding also damaged over 2,000 homes and 341 businesses.
(TNS) — It will be weeks, even months, before state officials can put their finger on the true cost of the ongoing flooding across eastern Nebraska.
But Wednesday, the latest preliminary estimates of damage to homes and businesses, as well as state infrastructure, topped $1.3 billion, those officials said in a news conference.
Three-fourths of the state's 93 counties have declared an emergency, Gov. Pete Ricketts said, as record crests have been reported on the Missouri, Platte, Elkhorn and Loup rivers in eastern Nebraska.
"The flooding is just devastating," Ricketts said.
Damage to roads, bridges and other state infrastructure systems is estimated at $439 million.
About 2,000 miles of state roads — roughly 20 percent of the entire state road system — have been closed at one point or another over the last week, according to Kyle Schneweis, director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
All but 375 miles have reopened, with traffic now flowing on U.S. 75 between Bellevue and Plattsmouth, a crucial stretch for commuters in Sarpy County, and U.S. 275 between Wisner and Beemer in Cuming County, which is a major route used by ag producers.
Crews continue working to clear and assess other closed roads, Schneweis added, while attempting to distinguish between roads that could safely reopen with temporary fixes, as well as those requiring long-term repairs.
The number of state highway bridges Nebraska will need to replace increased between Monday and Wednesday, as receding waters revealed three more bridges, including two on Nebraska 14, unsafe for travel.
The historic flooding has also caused an estimated $85 million in damage to more than 2,000 homes and 341 businesses, Ricketts said.
The governor urged homeowners whose property has been damaged to document the losses, as the state works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get a federal disaster declaration.
FEMA acknowledged receiving Nebraska's disaster declaration request Tuesday evening, Ricketts said, and after a review process the document could go to President Donald Trump for his signature, although it was unclear how quickly that could happen.
Ricketts said he has also been in contact with the Small Business Administration about deploying field teams to assess underinsured businesses and farm operations in an effort to access loan programs.
Losses to the state's largest economic sector — agriculture — include $400 million in cow-calf operations and $440 million in row crops.
Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, said the state expects many producers in the hardest-hit areas will be unable to plant fields this year, while others will be delayed until they can prepare the ground or for county roads to be fixed.
Wellman added that the department's hotline has been fielding calls both from producers as well as those interested in how they can help.
> He asked farmers who have experienced losses to call their county Farm Service Agency as soon as possible to get enrolled in federal recovery programs.
Tuesday, as Vice President Mike Pence toured flooded areas of the state with Ricketts, the Waterloo Fire Department conducted a water rescue, the governor said.
But the Nebraska National Guard, which had been assisting local fire and rescue squads as well as the Nebraska State Patrol in getting stranded residents out of danger, has not performed any rescue operations within 36 hours of Wednesday's update, Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac said.
A Black Hawk helicopter remains on standby to assist with any further efforts.
Meanwhile, the National Guard launched an operation along the Platte River in Colfax County on Wednesday to get hay to an isolated herd of cattle using a Chinook helicopter.
"It's been 50 or 60 years since we've had to do something like this," Bohac said.
As operations to bring much-needed nourishment and water to livestock herds grows, the state has requested aid from the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a multi-state consortium that allows for resources to be shared between the states.
Wednesday, another Chinook helicopter was en route to Nebraska from Minnesota, Bohac said. The Minnesota crew has night-vision capabilities to aid in missions launched at dark. Nebraska's night-vision Chinook crew is currently deployed to the Middle East.
Relief efforts are also growing.
"We know there are Nebraskans all across the state that have not been impacted but want to help their neighbors," Ricketts said.
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