FEMA questioned: U.S. senators from Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota questioned Federal Emergency Management Agency boss Craig Fugate on Wednesday about the federal disaster reimbursement process for costs of the Missouri River flood.
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Mike Johanns, R-Neb., John Thune, R-S.D., and a representative of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, attended the meeting. The senators told Fugate that communities along the river have spent millions on flood protection and asked whether and when federal aid might be available.
Disaster declaration requests, when submitted by governors and approved by the president, can unlock federal aid to state and local governments. Nebraska's request was approved Saturday. “The City of Omaha and other communities have spent a lot on flood prevention and could see some federal aid to ease the cost to their budgets,” Nelson said.
No effect on nuclear plants: Increased releases from Gavins Point Dam this week will not require increased flood protections at Nebraska's two nuclear plants, spokesmen said.
Mark Becker of Nebraska Public Power District and Mike Jones of the Omaha Public Power District said sufficient protections remain in place to account for the rise.
On Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that releases from Gavins Point would increase another 7 percent to 160,000 cubic feet per second.
That will add about 4 to 5 inches in the river's level at Fort Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Stations, according to information from the corps and the National Weather Service.
Also on Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a statement saying that it was monitoring the flooding at both plants.
“We are closely following events at both plants,” said Elmo Collins, the NRC regional administrator said. “Both plants have activated their flood response plans and taken appropriate steps to protect vital structures, systems and components from rising floodwaters and maintain their plants in a safe condition.”
The NRC has added two inspectors and a branch chief to the permanent two-person inspection crew at Fort Calhoun station, said Lara Uselding, spokeswoman. They are providing around-the-clock oversight there. Cooper continues to have its normal two-person crew of federal inspectors.
The floodwater was about 2.4 feet up the 8-foot temporary levee at Fort Calhoun. The plant remains off line because of the high water.
“We have already moved equipment, materials that could be damaged by floodwater, to higher ground,” Jones said. “There is no ‘critical equipment' needed to maintain safe operation of the facility that we would need to move.”
Cooper continues to generate electricity and sits about 2.5 feet above the current river level.
Water gushing: Water started rising up and spilling again into Izard Street a block north of TD Ameritrade Park.
The smelly water gushed up at 11th and Izard Streets this week near a Union Pacific train display and at 14th and Izard Streets. It also bubbled up between sidewalk cracks and around storm sewer inlets that the city previously had filled with concrete to stop earlier backups of storm sewer water.
People who work in the area were keeping a wary eye on the latest leaks Wednesday morning. “How deep is it going to get?” a man in a pickup shouted to Tim Barry, managing partner of Hot Shops Art Center. “This is not good,” Barry said. “This means we have water running underneath the street.”
But by early afternoon, the gushers and bubblers had ceased. Barry credited the city's efforts. “Public works has been great down here,” he said. “Every time they fix something, something else comes along. … Give them credit, they're addressing problems as they arise.”
Flood funds: Both the Fremont County and Mills County community foundations in Iowa, affiliates of the Omaha Community Foundation, have started flood relief funds for residents affected by the flooding. Officials said 100 percent of the money from the funds would be distributed to nonprofit organizations serving flood victims.
Donations payable to the Fremont County Flood Fund can be dropped off at these banks: First Community Bank, Sidney; First National Bank, Farragut; First State Bank, Tabor; Great Western Bank, Hamburg, Riverton and Sidney; Tri-Valley Bank, Randolph.
Donations payable to the Mills County Flood Fund can be dropped off at these banks: First National Bank, Glenwood; Great Western Bank, Glenwood; Glenwood State Bank, Glenwood and Pacific Junction; Houghton State Bank, Emerson; and Malvern Trust & Savings Bank, Malvern.
Donors can give online at Omaha Community Foundation or can mail checks to 302 S. 36th St., Suite 100, Omaha, NE 68131.
Road reopens: A 12-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 30 from North Platte to Maxwell, Neb., was reopened to traffic Wednesday after it had been closed for weeks due to flooding. Roger Klasna, operations manager for the Nebraska Department of Roads District 6, said excess water was removed from the highway by digging through the highway itself, allowing the water to escape to a nearby channel that was used to alleviate an overwhelmed Whitehorse Creek.
Caution urged: Iowa officials are warning drivers to stay away from roads, bridges and ramps that are closed by flooding along the Missouri River because it's against the law — and dangerous. The Iowa Department of Transportation says that even if water is not currently flowing over a highway, the road could be damaged or there could be other risks ahead making it unsafe for travel.
North Dakota damage: North Dakota's National Guard commander estimates that it will cost $90 million or more to repair roads, parks and other public works from damage caused during spring and summer flooding. Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk said that estimate was made before forecasts that parts of the city of Minot will be overwhelmed by the flooding Souris River this weekend.
St. Louis “OK”: Both the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers are well above flood stage, but the Army Corps of Engineers believes the St. Louis area will stay high and dry. St. Louis District Commander Col. Tom O'Hara said Wednesday that river levels on the Mississippi north of St. Louis have mostly crested, and the river should start to drop. Levees in the St. Louis area appear to be safe. The Missouri River continues to cause significant problems in northwest Missouri, but only moderate flooding is projected on the Missouri in the St. Louis region.
Registry: The City of Council Bluffs is preparing a registry of people with special needs who would require additional assistance in the event of flooding. This registry is for those who cannot evacuate on their own, including people who have a medical condition that limits or prevents mobility and have no assistance available, or have no method of transportation and no access to any individual who can assist with transportation. Call 712-328-4672 to register.
Jazz Festival relocates: The 10th annual Omaha Riverfront Jazz and Blues Festival has a new home this summer. Because of flooding at Lewis & Clark Landing on the riverfront, the festival will be held at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. Dates and times remain the same: July 8 and 9; lobby doors open at 4 p.m., music starts at 5:15 p.m.
More volunteers needed: The City of Omaha is looking for more volunteers to help fill sandbags at Levi Carter Park. Mayor Jim Suttle's administration said Wednesday that the city's sandbag supply is dwindling, and more need to be filled to protect property from rising floodwaters. Volunteers must be at least 19 years old and will need to bring gloves and a shovel. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the volunteer shifts will be 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
To volunteer, visit United Way of the Midlands.
Groups of 10 or more should call Amber Miller with the Parks Department at 444-5947.
Nebraska National Guard: There are now 106 Nebraska National Guard soldiers and airmen providing direct support in the flooding emergency. The largest contingent, 25, is on standby at Omaha's Eppley Airfield and the National Guard air base in Lincoln to begin aerial sandbagging operations if needed. This effort includes Army Guard riggers and two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, crews and support staff. Two OH-58 Kiowa helicopters and crew are supporting local and state officials with aerial surveillance of Missouri River levees. An additional 20 Guard members are assisting Douglas County and Omaha emergency management officials in 24-hour monitoring of river levees.
THE RUMOR MILL
Rumor: Flooding in one of the Harrah's casino parking lots will cancel the annual Fourth of July fireworks show.
Fact: The show will go on, although the fireworks display will shift from Harrah's to the nearby Horseshoe Casino. Watch the skies at 9:59 p.m. on July 4.
Rumor: Prisoners are being moved from the Pottawattamie County Jail on Big Lake Road in Council Bluffs to a facility in or near Des Moines due to flood concerns.
Fact: All prisoners remain at the jail in Council Bluffs. “If we got flooded, or it looked like we were going to be, we would have to move them,” said Stu De La Castro, jail administrator. “But we have no plans right now. We are all safe, dry and secure here.”
World-Herald staff writers with the World-Herald News Service and the Associated Press.