March 18, 2019– Mary Greeley News – All along Midwest rivers Sunday, residents and officials prepared for flooding that already has killed at least three people, forced mandatory evacuations, breached dams and levees and flooded a military base.
Nebraska and Iowa continue to reel from rising floodwaters that have devastated towns and crops and taken lives around the state.
Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, was restricted to “mission essential personnel” on Sunday after about a third of the base was cut off by rising floodwaters from the Missouri River. Thirty buildings have been inundated with as much as 8 feet of water, Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake, a 55th Wing spokeswoman, told the Omaha World-Herald.
An 80-year-old woman has died after rescue teams were unable to free her from her home in rural Columbus.
The Platte County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that officials had learned that 80-year-old Betty Hamernik was trapped in her house by floodwaters from the Loup River on Thursday. Rescuers from Lincoln’s Urban Search and Rescue Water Rescue Team were unable to get to Hamernik because of the fast current, high waves and wind gusts of 60 mph, according to the sheriff’s report.
A team from the Nebraska National Guard attempted to rescue Hamernik by air on Friday morning. After several attempts, crew members discovered that Hamernik had died, but they still were unable to get in the house.
On Saturday, a dive team from the Platte County Sheriff’s Office retrieved her body.
Columbus farmer James Wilke, 50, died Thursday after he was thrown into flood-swollen Shell Creek. Wilke learned that rising floodwaters had stranded a motorist along a nearby country road early Thursday, so he took his tractor to try to help. A bridge over Shell Creek collapsed under the tractor’s weight and Wilke went into the water. His body was found downstream about nine hours later, near his own farm.
Military escort for trucks
In addition, Aleido Rojas Galan, 55, of Norfolk, died after the car he was in went around a road barrier in southwest Iowa and got caught up in floodwaters west of Riverton, Iowa, on Friday night.
Galan was taken by medical helicopter to Bryan Medical Center’s west campus in Lincoln, where he died.
Flood waters appear to have crested at Offutt Air Force Base and even slightly receded.
Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake said water has moved east about 10 feet since Sunday morning. But none of the 60 structures that flooded over the weekend — including the 55th Wing headquarters and two large aircraft maintenance hangars — are yet accessible. It may be days before the damage can be assessed.
Even the U.S. Air Force couldn’t stop the Mighty Missouri River from flooding Offutt Air Force Base.
Between Saturdayc night and early Sunday, the 55th Wing called off a 30-hour, round-the-clock sandbagging effort because the floodwaters were rising too fast.
“It was a lost cause. We gave up,” said Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake, a 55th Wing spokeswoman.
By Sunday morning, one-third of the base was underwater, she said. Thirty buildings, including the 55th Wing headquarters and the two major aircraft maintenance facilities, had been flooded with up to 8 feet of water, and 30 more structures damaged. About 3,000 feet of the base’s 11,700-foot runway was submerged. No one, though, had been injured.
Workers at the Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, Nebraska made it to work just fine over the weekend. But they had to ride a helicopter to get to the plant.
Water levels were expected to rise through the week, according to the National Weather Service, prompting evacuations in communities along the Missouri River on the Nebraska and Iowa border, as well as the Elkhorn and Platte rivers in Nebraska.
Plattsmouth Water Department is now shutdown because of flooding.
At the levee, the topping point is 43 feet. At the nearby plant, water levels are calculated by their position above sea level.
Water surrounding the plant came to 899.75 feet above sea level. At 901.5 feet above sea level – 1.75 feet higher – the plant would have shut down as a precautionary measure.
“We are operating at full power and the water is receding … and we expect the water level to continue dropping,” NPPD spokesman Mark Becker said, noting there was no danger to the plant employees or the public.
As it happened, with the collapsing levees downstream, most of the flooding occurred in neighboring Iowa.The water came within a foot of overtopping the Brownville levee, which was loaded with sand bags for extra protection. Had it gone a half a foot higher at the levee, where the measurements are calculated differently from the plant, the plant would have closed as a precautionary measure.
Becker said the water was receding because some levees up river from the plant had collapsed, flooding low-lying plains, mostly in Iowa, rather than flowing down the river.
Becker said NPPD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have checked the levees at Cooper, and they are “in good shape.” He also noted the Army Corps was reducing water releases from the Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River between Nebraska and South Dakota to help reduce flooding downriver.
The biggest danger to a nuclear plant from flooding is the loss of power, which can make it difficult to circulate the water needed to cool the uranium fuel in the reactor core and the fuel stored in the spent-fuel pool.
That caused the fuel in some reactor cores at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan to partially melt down in 2011 after a giant earthquake and tsunami cut power to the plant.
If it reaches 901.5 feet, NPPD said it would take the station offline as a protective measure.
The 770-megawatt (MW) Cooper plant, near Brownville, Nebraska, was built at 903 feet above sea level, which is 13 feet above natural grade, NPPD said.
At 43.5 feet (13.3 meters), workers will start barricading internal doorways and take other precautions. During the historic summer flooding in 2011, Cooper sandbagged and barricaded the doorways but kept functioning.
Becker says the district will get power through its own facilities or through a power-sharing network if Cooper’s power generation must halt.
Hundreds of homes have flooded in northwest Missouri after the Missouri River overtopped and breached several farm levees.
Holt County emergency management director Tom Bullock says there is 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) of water in many homes. He says one couple was rescued in a helicopter, and some businesses also have flooded.
The Missouri Department of Transportation also reported about 100 flood-related road closures in the state, including a stretch of Interstate 29.
The Missouri River already has crested upstream of Omaha, Nebraska. The National Weather Service says it will crest Thursday in St. Joseph at 10.4 feet (3.2 meters) above flood stage, which would be the third highest on record.
Military C-130 planes were evacuated last week from the Rosecrans Air National Guard base in preparation.