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Roads, towns and livelihoods are washed away in Midwest floods

Ongoing flooding across the Midwest has left thousands of homes damaged and vast swaths of farmland underwater. Residents and public officials alike are trying to cope with washed-out roads, lost livestock, ruined crops, and a lack of supplies. Meanwhile, weather experts are predicting a “potentially unprecedented” flood season. Judy Woodruff speaks to Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now a look at the mounting toll taken by the ongoing flooding across the Midwestern United States.

    Thousands of homes are damaged and vast swathes of farmland underwater, leaving local residents and public officials trying to cope.

    In some places, the floodwaters swallowed entire neighborhoods and washed away bridges.

  • Man:

    There goes the Mormon Canal Bridge right there. It just washed out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Swelled with rainwater and snowmelt, the Missouri river crested to its third highest flood level on record.

    The Missouri River's flood crest breached numerous levees, including one that destroyed a water treatment plant in the small town of Peru, Nebraska.

  • Fred Knapp:

    There's no potable water in town, other than the two days' supply approximately in the city's water tower, and that's being supplemented now by the National Guard bringing in pallets of water and local church groups as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Record-breaking late-winter floods have led to statewide emergency declarations in Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

    In Nebraska, floodwater rendered roads and entire highway routes impassable. For farmers across Nebraska and Iowa, the record floods have been especially devastating, with many losing much of their livestock and last year's harvest.

    The Nebraska National Guard has taken to airdropping bales of hay, attempting to save horses and cattle trapped in flooded fields and at risk of starving to death.

    In Iowa, the flooding has caused an estimated $1.6 billion in damage. For Nebraska, the damage to the state's livestock sector alone is projected to be $400 million.

    On Thursday, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, released a report forecasting a potentially unprecedented flood season in the current year. NOAA forecasts that 25 states, nearly two-thirds of the Lower 48, are at risk of serious flooding this spring.

    And with us now on the phone is Pete Ricketts. He's the Republican governor of Nebraska, whose state, as we just reported, has felt much of the brunt of the flooding. He has been monitoring conditions all over the state.

    Governor, thank you for talking with us.

    Tell us what you are seeing.

  • Gov. Pete Ricketts:

    Well, the devastation is the most widespread that we have ever had in our state's history.

    We — I have flown the Platte River, the Elkhorn River, the Loup River, the Niobrara, the Missouri, and all these major river systems are flooding at record levels that we have never seen before here in the state.

    And so, in many cases, for example, you can't see where the channel of the river is supposed to be. I was flying with the vice president on Tuesday when he came to our state, and I couldn't tell where the Missouri River was supposed to be, where Nebraska ended and Iowa started.

    The Elkhorn River looked like the Missouri River normally does. It was just really stunning to see that much water coming through our state all at the same time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How have conditions changed in the last few days?

  • Gov. Pete Ricketts:

    Well, water levels are beginning to drop, and that's the good news. So, people are being able to get back to their homes and start the cleanup and recovery process. We had several cities that were isolated.

    Fremont, Nebraska, for example, was really — you couldn't get there by road for about 48 hours. And so now people can drive to and from Fremont. The city of Columbus was a peninsula. That's gotten better.

    Waterloo was another community that was isolated. We can get there now by road. With these water levels dropping, we're seeing more people going — returning to their homes. The number of people in our shelters is going down.

    But there's still going to be a long road of cleanup left ahead of us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tell us who is feeling the toll of this the most. We have just seen and we have spoken about what the farmers are dealing with. Give us the bigger picture there.

  • Gov. Pete Ricketts:

    Yes, absolutely.

    So, certainly, our farmers and ranchers are feeling a lot of the damage here. We estimate about $400 million in cow-calf losses, about $440 million in crop loss. We have had over 2,000 homes, over 340 businesses damages, probably about $85 million worth of homes and businesses damaged.

    And then our infrastructure has really take an lot of the heat. About $439 million, we think there. At one point, 20 percent of our roads were impacted, our state highways, that is. And we have still got about 200 miles of highways that will not with usable until they can be fixed.

    And just to give your listeners an impact here is, 85 — over 85 percent of our counties have declared an emergency. This, like I said, is the most widespread.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Governor, how long is it going to take for things to get back to normal?

  • Gov. Pete Ricketts:

    Well, this is going to take many months to recover from.

    These major infrastructure projects, like the roads I mentioned, we have got 16 bridges out, this is all going to get — take time to fix. We want to move as quickly as possible. And that's why our team worked quickly with FEMA to get a disaster declaration in place.

    We were able to submit a disaster declaration on Tuesday. And FEMA got that to the White House very quickly, and we got the disaster declaration yesterday. So that will help us by tapping into those resources — resources both for public and individual assistance.

    And I know the resilience of the Nebraska people here. We have got a drive going on right now to raise money called Nebraska Strong. We're going to rebuild even bigger and better than before. And we will get through this together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Governor, we are thinking of you and all the people affected by this flooding, this terrible inundation that you have been dealing with.

    Governor Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, thank you very much.

  • Gov. Pete Ricketts:

    Great. Thank you.

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