Letter from Langdon: Notes from the Flood

Record-setting flooding in the Midwest may have disappeared from your national news feed, but for residents in the affected areas such as Richard Oswald in northwest Missouri, the story is still unfolding.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Throughout the flooding in the Midwest along the Missouri River, we’ve stayed in touch with Daily Yonder columnist Richard Oswald, whose land and structures near the Missouri River have been inundated. Richard has provided frequent email updates about conditions and consequences in northwest Missouri and other parts of the Midwest. The emails are arranged chronologically with the most recent one first.

Flooded roads made for a harrowing trip back to the farmhouse. (Photo by Richard Oswald)

April 12, 2019

Vice President Mike Pence is due in Pacific Junction, Iowa, today. Both Iowa and Nebraska have declared disasters. Still no disaster declaration for Missouri.

The railroads are deployed across the valley hauling mountains of rock to re-bed the tracks so they can haul coal south again. It’s really amazing to see all those trucks going every which way. [There are] hundreds if not thousands on both sides of the river.

Over on the Platte River near [Nebraska’s] Offutt Air Base, which was severely flooded, the [Union Pacific] railroad built a road of rock in the river out to their collapsed trestle that was knocked down by water, ice, and log jams. They’re almost finished.

Back here [in northwest Missouri] the water has come up some. I went to our house in the tractor and got a few more things yesterday. By the time we headed back, water on the road had gotten deeper. It was a bit harrowing. Mandy rode along. As she got out of the tractor, she said she was glad I was so calm because she was about to lose it.

I told her that to be honest I was scared to death.

The flood goes on with little evidence of state or federal assistance other than state troopers filtering out gawkers and lost travelers from rock trucks on the closed interstate.

The high water mark in the Oswald home. (Photo by Richard Oswald)

April 4, 2019

The house took water this time. And the roads are washing out already as they did in 2011. I drove a tractor down on Tuesday but water on parts of the road was deeper than I wanted. I nearly lost my nerve. Knowing there were deep drainage ditches 6 to 8 feet deep on either side and not actually seeing the road beneath me was to say the least an anxious few moments.

Mandy and Chad received a load of hay and feed and fencing supplies from a group of Kansas ranchers who were helped after the wildfires in 2017. Though shrinking, the brotherhood is alive and well.

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If this is a $15 billion disaster, and I believe it is all that and more, a few $100 donations and some volunteering are only good for search and rescue. … [T]he scale of need exceeds volunteerism.

Your neighbors help “put out the fire” because that’s the most immediate need but sooner or later we all have to go home and go back to work.

Let’s also not forget that the [Army Corps of Engineer’s] inability to control the water they’re in charge of places this [disaster] on the back of government.

A message from the Rural Assembly

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Today I watched a local farm boy who grew his own aerial application business from the ground up, haul his entire inventory to high ground through 4 miles of water — and back again, again and again — over flooded state highways and country roads. It’s time to spray pastures and all his product was in a flooded hangar below Langdon.

When does it get to be too much?

March 28, 2019

We’ve had the governor, our congressman, our state representative, the state Farm Bureau president, Bill Northey, undersecretary for production and conservation at the USDA, and many less memorable VIPs pass through here pledging their support for flood victims. My daughter asked me yesterday what I thought the odds are we’ll actually get some form of aid.

Something close to zero.

These guys always show up. Then they leave town. The whole thing takes about 2 hours because they’re always late. So when they finally arrive they hustle through the door because they’re VERY busy and VERY late. So after a brief and VERY sympathetic and supportive statement they take a couple of questions then they have to be going because they’re VERY much behind their schedule.

They work so hard.

Then they go back where they came from with pictures of how they supported flood victims. That’s pretty much the way they all treat agriculture in general.

March 27, 2019

I just drove from Auburn to St Joe this morning. Nebraska had a trooper or a deputy about every 15 miles. Kansas was wide open. They don’t seem to be stopping anyone for going a little fast. 70 on a hilly two-lane is fast enough for me.

Karen said the guy who owns one of the gas/convenience stores in Auburn made enough extra in 2011 to build an apartment building. He might make enough this time to build everyone a carport.

The Oswald farm house after the flood. (Photo by Richard Oswald)

March 26, 2019

I bet I’ve talked to seven or eight reporters the last five days. Tomorrow HBO might be coming by. I told Karen I’m not sure why I work this hard at talking.

Here’s an excerpt from a Reuters story that quotes Oswald:

… Richard Oswald … farms near Phelps City, Missouri. The flood has already swallowed his childhood home, many of his fields and more than 20,000 bushels of corn. His four grain bins have burst, after water-logged corn expanded and split open.

“If our government and leaders can’t step up and start to lead, we’re done for,” he said.

For years, Oswald paid extra for flood insurance. He hoped that government talk of investing in improving U.S. infrastructure would come through – and bolster the levees and dams throughout the Midwest.

But this year, as the trade war dragged on, he dropped the policy to reduce expenses. So he will get no insurance money for the lost corn, Oswald said.

A few days ago, one of his lenders called. Oswald didn’t have to pay the loan right away, the lender said, but he would have to repay it sooner or later.

“Help needs to come from Congress, but Congress is so divided, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Oswald said.

Richard Oswald is a fifth-generation Missouri farmer from Langdon. He is membership and policy director for the Missouri Farmers Union.

A message from the Rural Assembly

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