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Published October 24, 2011, 06:56 PM

Missouri River flooding damages land, crops and structures in four states

LINCOLN, Neb. — As the great flood of 2011 recedes, we finally are seeing the magnitude of what has happened through many months, especially along the Missouri River in Iowa and Nebraska.

LINCOLN, Neb. — As the great flood of 2011 recedes, we finally are seeing the magnitude of what has happened through many months, especially along the Missouri River in Iowa and Nebraska.

The damage to homes, businesses, farmland, crops, roads, levees and public property is stunning, and the calculations of loss aren’t even close to final numbers.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is estimating $750 million to $1.3 billion in damage to flood control structures alone. That’s from the Fort Peck Dam downstream, in Montana to the confluence with the Mississippi at St. Louis. That’s a very conservative estimate.

Nebraska emergency management officials have identified 1,164 houses in the state that are damaged by floodwater in some way.

Most of the houses are along the Missouri River, but there also are some near North Platte, Neb., damaged by floods earlier this year.

Some homes will have to be demolished, knocked down and carried away to a landfill or burned on-site.

Damage to cropland

The preliminary indication from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency puts agricultural damage in four states, including Nebraska, at 284,000 acres. That’s almost 450 square miles.

BNSF Railway has reported spending $300 million on flood damage.

How much of all this is covered by insurance of one kind or another is unknown.

Much work ahead

But it’s certainly a good time to take a deep breath and prepare for the work and expense of recovery. Public safety officials are looking at work far into next year, if not beyond.

Luckily, we are mourning no more than one life lost in Nebraska in this disaster: James McGauley, 58, died in June when he was working on a levee in Fort Calhoun, Neb., and his truck rolled into a ditch.

Brian Dunnigan, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, provides some historical perspective:

1950: Floods on the Missouri and Nemaha rivers killed 25 people and caused what would be half a billion dollars of damage today.

1952: 1,400 Nebraska homes damaged by flooding.

1964: In the Papio watershed of Nebraska’s Douglas and Sarpy counties, five dead, 1,200 homes damaged.

Compared with the death and destruction of floods in the past, we were both lucky and better prepared this time.

We await with much interest a report from a special panel of experts appointed to tell us if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could have done better operating six main stem dams along the Missouri River leading up to and during the flood of 2011.

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