VALLEY, Neb. (Reuters) – As icy floodwaters fed by rains and melting snow receded in Nebraska and Iowa, leaving destroyed homes, drowned cattle and swamped farmland, Midwestern states downstream on Thursday braced for a relentless surge along the Missouri River, with more rain expected.
Flooding from last week’s storm has already caused nearly $1.5 billion in damage in Nebraska, killed at least four people with another missing.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday approved a disaster declaration for Nebraska, making federal funding available to affected individuals in nine counties in the state.
Forecasters warned the floods would likely to continue through May, and could worsen in the coming weeks.
“This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk,” Ed Clark, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said on Thursday in the agency’s spring outlook.
“This isn’t over,” said David Roth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center, adding the Missouri River will see several more major flood crests over the next week.
The waters have already swamped a large swath of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa along one of North America’s longest rivers. A state of emergency has been declared in all or parts of the three Midwestern farm states.
“We’re going to get some moderate rain this weekend over eastern Nebraska, maybe a half inch (1.3 cm),” Roth said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but any more precipitation is bad.”
The Missouri River’s next major flood crest is forecast to hit St. Joseph, Missouri, at 6 a.m. CDT (1100 GMT) on Friday and a day later in Kansas City, Missouri, 55 miles (90 km) to the south, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Missouri River empties into the Mississippi River, potentially threatening several southern and Midwestern U.S. states including Arkansas and Louisiana.
Mike O’Connell, a Missouri Department of Public Safety spokesman, said authorities were not expecting widespread, catastrophic flooding of the kind that had inundated Nebraska.
He said numerous levee breaches upstream have eased the flood threat to communities downstream, he said, because there ends up being less water flowing through the river channel.
About 200 people voluntarily evacuated from the small city of Winthrop and Louis and Clark Village in Buchanan County, Missouri, after a levee in the area breached on Thursday, said the local emergency management coordinator, Bill Brinton.
“These people may get flooded two or three times over the next month or so,” Brinton said. “These people have been through so much.”
Howard Geib, 54, owns a farm near the town of Craig in Holt County, Missouri, which issued a mandatory evacuation on Wednesday. Geib said a levee near his farm broke at the weekend, and he saw at least 10 levees in the county that have broken.
“They broke,” Geib said on Thursday. “There are 600-, 700-, 1,000-foot-long holes in the levees.”
The deputy commander of the Army Corps’ Omaha District, which encompasses the Missouri River watershed downstream to St. Joseph, said on Wednesday that there had been more than 30 breaches across the public levee system in that region.
More than 2,400 homes and businesses in Nebraska have been destroyed or damaged, with 200 miles (320 km) of roads unusable and 11 bridges wiped out, according to authorities.
The state’s governor, Pete Ricketts, thanked Trump for his federal disaster declaration as Nebraskans prepared to recover from what he called “the most widespread natural disaster in our state’s history.”
Ricketts estimated the floods caused at least $439 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, and $85 million to privately owned assets. He put flood damage for the state’s agricultural sector at nearly $1 billion.
Mark Hamilton, 59, lived in a mobile home in Arlington, Nebraska, for the last 23 years but was forced to flee when it flooded. He said he lost his house, motorcycle and truck at a total cost of about $150,000.
“We’ve had floods nine, ten years ago but it was nothing like this,” said Hamilton, a retired military officer. “That entire trailer park needs to be removed now, nobody can live there.”
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by G Crosse and Nick Carey