US weather: Thousands flee midwest as three die amid flooding triggered by 'bomb cyclone'

Missouri River expected to breach record levels

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 18 March 2019 18:23 GMT
National Guard helicopters drop bales of hay for cattle isolated by floods

Thousands of people are being forced to leave their homes after a so-called bomb cyclone brought flooding to huge swathes of the American midwest.

From Nebraska to Kansas, and Missouri to Illinois, residents have been evacuated amid flooding that has killed at least three people. In some parts of the country, the situation is expected to get worse.

The governors of Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin have declared states of emergency. "This really is the most devastating flooding we've probably ever had in our state's history, from the standpoint of how widespread it is,” Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts tweeted on Monday. “In 2011, it took 108 days for water to subside, and this year the water is 4-5 feet higher."

By Monday, it appeared water levels in his state were falling. But residents were advised to use extreme caution. “Do not enter flood waters or drive around barricades. The structural integrity of roads/bridges must be determined before roads can be opened,” said Maj Gen Daryl Bohac, of the Nebraska National Guard.

Downstream on the Missouri River, in Missouri and Kansas, people were told to expect the river to reach record levels. In the Kansas city of Atchison, businesses were said to be piling up sandbags as the National Weather Service (NWS) predicted river levels to reach 30 feet there later this week.

“It’s not looking good at all. I think it’s going to get us this time and I hate to say that,” Sara Tull, one resident of the city located on the Kansas/Missouri border and 60 miles north east of Topeka, said.

Residents remember flooding there in 2011, when the river reached 31 feet. “They’ve got their stuff out of their house, a lot of them have, you know we’ve gone through this before and it is ugly,” Judy Prohaska, another resident, told KCTV News.

“Historic flooding continues across the plains and midwest this week with many rivers at 'major flood' stage,” the NWS said. “Many roads are closed due to flooding in the region and they’re closed for good reason. Fifty per cent of all flood deaths are vehicle-related. Turn around, don’t drown.”

The flooding across the US heartland has followed a bomb cyclone winter storm, a hurricane-like weather phenomenon that last week hit the Rocky Mountains and other parts of the country, bringing snow and freezing rains to millions of people.

The Associated Press said residents in parts of southwestern Iowa were forced out of their homes in Sunday, as a torrent of Missouri River water flowed over and through levees, putting them in a similar situation to those in Nebraska.

While river depths were starting to level off in parts of Nebraska, the water is so high in many places that serious flooding is expected to remain for several days.

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Lucinda Parker of Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management said nearly 2,000 people had been evacuated at eight Iowa locations since flooding began late last week. Most were staying with friends or family. Seven shelters set up for flood victims held just a couple dozen people Saturday night.

In Nebraska, the Missouri River flooded Offutt Air Force Base, with about one-third of it under water.

At least three people have died in the floodwaters, the news agency said. Aleido Rojas Galan, 52, of Norfolk, Nebraska was swept away on Friday night in southwestern Iowa, when the vehicle he was in went around a barricade. Two others in the vehicle survived, one of them by clinging to a tree.

On Thursday, James Wilke, 50, a farmer from Columbus, Nebraska, died when a bridge collapsed as he used a tractor to try and reach stranded motorists. On Monday the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, reported that an 80-year-old woman had become the latest confirmed fatality. Betty Hamernik died in her home near Columbus, Nebraska, after becoming trapped by rising floodwaters from the Loup River.

Two men remain missing. A man from Norfolk, Nebraska, was seen on top of his flooded car late on Thursday before being swept away. Water also swept away a man after a dam collapse.

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