Midwest Flooding Hits Hard — Aging Infrastructure Bears the Brunt

As floodwaters recede in the first areas hit by flooding in the Midwest, residents are eager to start cleanup. For farmers, the damage comes when livestock is vulnerable and the ag market is soft.

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Marty Sketch knows what he needs to do to start repairing the damage his home received from the Midwest’s flooding this week. But he’s not sure when he’s going to be allowed to do it.

“With every day I can’t get in there the damage is getting worse,” said Sketch, whose home is in the Betty, Chris, and Hanson lakes region of Nebraska. The lakes line the northern bank of the Platte River south of Omaha in Sarpy County, Nebraska.

The Sarpy County Sheriff’s Department expects to allow residents back into the area Friday, according to the department’s website.

“We need to be getting that drywall out, removing the carpet, tearing out the insulation as fast as possible to minimize the structural damage,” said Sketch, who works in the construction industry.

Sketch is not alone. He says there are about 450 homes flooded in his community. That’s just one small part of the massive flooding that has swept through Nebraska and Iowa.

“You hear these disaster stories,” Sketch said. “People always say ‘that’ll never happen to me.’ But we had a tornado in 2017, and now these floods. We’re getting to be experts in how this disaster recovery thing works.”

Sketch said he recently paid off his mortgage.

A message from the Rural Assembly

Flood waters are receding in Nebraska as the surge moves downstream .to the south.

The flooding is likely to cause a lot of problems for farmers in the Midwest,  said Brian Depew, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs. The floods come at a time when both the agricultural markets and infrastructure are vulnerable, he said.

“This is ongoing event, and we’re still beginning to assess the situation and the damage,” Depew said. “We had a much colder March than in recent years. Most of our snow came in the last few weeks, and the ground is still frozen. Then it the temperatures warm up and rains came. The frozen soils couldn’t absorb the rain, and that led to these historic flood conditions.”

The damage to local infrastructure and agricultural operations is enormous. “It has hit our government infrastructure hard. Dams, roads, levees, bridges have been impacted. Property damage, livestock losses, it’s pretty staggering. The Spencer Dam collapsed. This is a 90-year-old dam, aging infrastructure like we see all over the state, that caved under duress from the storm.

“For farmers, the most immediate damage is with livestock. It’s calving season for most farmers. We will learn more in the weeks ahead about the water quality issues that emerge, see the extent of the soil erosion, see how local roads held up to water damage,” Depew said.

With the waters now receding, Center for Rural Affairs’ Depew said that rural Nebraska is coming together in the tragedy. “It’s your classic grassroots rural community story, people pitching in to take care of each other. We had staff members helping with the sandbagging along the rivers. Sure, there’s the Red Cross and other active relief efforts, and that’s certainly important. But in every community, people are rallying and showing their best selves. That’s the most inspiring and hopeful thing about rural America,” Depew said.

Sketch said he thinks he and his neighbors will get reimbursed for their hotel costs through disaster assistance. But he worries about his neighbors who don’t have enough money to pay for housing in the meantime.

“A few miles down the road, there’s a trailer park and that place is destroyed. A lot of these people can’t afford to front the $100 hotel bill it takes to get a place around here. That’s what, $700 a week? That’s more than a lot of people around here pay for their monthly mortgage. They might get reimbursed down the line, but you have to front that money now.”

A message from the Rural Assembly

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