Heavy rain and melting snow that overpowered the Missouri River forced hundreds of families out of their homes in the Midwest and forced the base that is home to U.S. Strategic Command to sharply scale back operations on Sunday.
At least three people are confirmed to have died in what the National Weather Service called “major and historical river flooding” along parts of the Missouri and Mississippi river basins.
State emergency management officials in Nebraska said a 50-year-old farmer was swept away while helping someone else escape from a vehicle in floodwaters on Thursday. They said an elderly resident also died in rising waters after having refused to leave home; no further details were immediately available.
In Iowa, Aleido Rojas Galan, 55, died after he was submerged in floodwaters on Friday in the town of Riverton, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office said.
Flood warnings and advisories remained in effect Sunday evening across eastern Nebraska, southern Wisconsin and parts of Iowa. The National Weather Service said major flooding was expected to continue across the region as late as Wednesday.
Video from the Elkhorn just north of Maple Steet near Valley, south to where the Platte and Elkhorn meet pic.twitter.com/rH44lGIUHO
— OPD Helicopter (@OPDABLE1) March 17, 2019
The Missouri River reached 30.2 feet in Fremont County in far southwestern Iowa on Sunday, breaking the record by 2 feet and topping levees in the towns of Bartlett and Thurman. A levee was breached on the Platte River near North Bend, northwest of Omaha, Nebraska, on Sunday afternoon; authorities urged all residents to move to higher ground immediately.
U.S. Strategic Command, or StratCom, which oversees the U.S. strategic nuclear forces from Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, said Sunday that floodwaters had overwhelmed the southeastern side of the base despite the deployment of more than 235,000 sandbags and 460 flood barriers.
Base commanders told NBC affiliate WOWT of Omaha that the flooding was affecting as much as two-thirds of the more than 16,000 active-duty and civilian personnel at the base — which, in addition to hosting StratCom, is home to the 55th Wing, the largest wing within Air Combat Command.
StratCom ordered all but “mission critical personnel” to stay home on Sunday, saying that its main gate was among the blocked entryways and that the water wasn’t expected to begin receding until Thursday. The base’s runway was expected to remain closed until Tuesday.
“We wanted to stay ready, and fortunately we were able to save all of our critical capability, and we are still in the fight,” said Col. Michael Manion, commander of the 55th Wing.
The governors of Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin all declared states of emergency.
In Sidney, Iowa, in Fremont County, many residents began hauling as many of their belongings as they could to higher ground on Saturday after Mike Creselius, the county’s emergency manager, confirmed that a breached levee north of the county had sent floodwaters crashing into Percival and other towns.
Creselius asked residents in the area to evacuate, Dale Chaney told NBC affiliate WHO of Des Moines that he was staying put.
“I’m going to stick it out,” Chaney said. “I have no place to go.”
Among the residents evacuated from Bellevue, Nebraska, was Margie Guy, who told WOWT that both of her mobile homes were total losses.
“Do I know where I’m going to stay tonight? No, I don’t know where I’m going to stay tonight,” Guy said. “Do I know where we’re going to stay tomorrow night? No, we don’t.”
Guy described the feeling as “numbness.”
“I mean, at this point, I don’t know that anybody knows what’s going to happen next,” she said.