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Flash flood emergency up for Platte after ice jam breaks; 1 missing in Norfolk

Flash flood emergency up for Platte after ice jam breaks; 1 missing in Norfolk


(UPDATE 1:30 p.m.): Overflowing rivers continue to displace residents across the eastern half of Nebraska, emergency management officials told members of the Legislature over the lunch hour on Thursday.

“It’s not wide-scale evacuation, but we have had to look at some facilities for some residential areas to get people out of harm’s way,” said Bryan Tuma, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

Several towns along tributaries to Nebraska’s largest rivers issued evacuation notices on Wednesday.

But by Thursday morning, flooding was forcing people to seek higher ground in places like Norfolk, where one-third of the town’s homes are in low-lying areas, Columbus and Inglewood just south of Fremont.

In Norfolk, the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs is prepared to move 155 people from the veterans' home to another facility in Kearney, if necessary.

In Howard County, 90 miles of county roads and 30 bridges had been put in danger by floodwaters; 300 residents of Dannebrog were asked to leave.

A levy along the Loup Power Canal north of Columbus was breached, leading to evacuations for the town of Genoa in Nance County.

Water in Genoa was at record levels, officials said, until Loup Power activated its power plant, helping drop the water level from 17 feet to 15 feet.

A bridge on Nebraska 39 was underwater and not visible early Thursday.

The flooding across Nebraska widespread, with water rescues reported in Buffalo County in south-central Nebraska, with all three major bridges in Cuming County impassable on Thursday, and with devastation reported along the Niobrara River on the South Dakota border.

The Spencer Dam on the Niobrara was deemed in danger around 3 a.m. on Thursday, officials said. A few hours later, officials reported the wooden dam had been swept away, leaving the Redbird Dam downriver in jeopardy.

A bridge over the Niobrara on U.S. 281 was washed away.

“This event is going to be ongoing for at least the next several days, if not the next couple of weeks,” Tuma said.

Higher temperatures next week are expected to melt the 18 to 24 inches of snow that fell in western parts of the state and in states upstream from several rivers including South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana.

Plans to help speed up melting of ice on two rivers by spreading coal ash on them have been scrapped.

The ice jams -- one on the Platte River in Sarpy County and another on the Loup River near Columbus -- were flushed out sometime overnight, Tuma said.

But the Platte River between Schuyler and North Bend “is beginning to be problematic,” Tuma said.

UPDATE (12:30 p.m.): The Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday afternoon that it will increase water releases from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota, to 60,000 cubic feet per second.

Releases were at 27,000 cubic feet per second as recently as Wednesday. The increased releases are necessary due to the rising inflow into the Gavins Point reservoir, officials said.

Flooding is expected to worsen along the Missouri River downstream.

At Plattsmouth, the river was at 32.4 feet on Wednesday morning, 6-plus feet above flood stage and is projected to crest near 35 feet on Sunday.

Floodwaters have already closed Interstate 29 and I-680 in Iowa. 

UPDATE (Noon): Lincoln’s Urban Search and Water Rescue Team was called out on Thursday to help get access to one or two homes in the Columbus area that local authorities cannot reach.

UPDATE (11:15 a.m.): The National Weather Service said floodwaters along the Platte River from Schuyler to Ashland could rise 4 to 5 feet after an ice jam apparently broke upstream.

The advisory warned residents adjacent to the river to move quickly to higher ground.


One person was missing Thursday morning after falling into a flood control levee in Norfolk, where one-third of the city was asked to evacuate after city officials said the levy system was "nearing its top."

Rescue officials were called out around 4 a.m. to the intersection near First and Benjamin Avenue where a person and their vehicle had been swept away by the water. As of 8 a.m. they had not been located.

At 9 a.m., News Channel Nebraska reported officials were working to rescue 10 people trapped on Channel Road just southeast of the U.S. 275 and Nebraska 24 junction near Norfolk. 

According to Norfolk Public Safety Director Shane Weidner, Norfolk Fire and Rescue, together with the Stanton County Sheriff’s Department, are using a Game and Parks boat to get to reach a house where water had risen above the basement egress windows.

In addition to Norfolk, evacuations forced by flooding have occurred in several communities across the state, including Belgrade, Burwell, Cedar Rapids, Dannebrog, Harrington, Pierce, Randolph, St. Paul and Verdigre.

The evacuation area in Norfolk is from Eisenhauer Road south to the Elkhorn River and from Seventh Street to Victory Road.

Norfolk officials said they were nearing capacity at shelters and were prepared to send people to schools if the Norfolk Veterans Home needed to be evacuated.

Northeast Community College President Michael Chipps said they had moved 543 students to the First Christian Church.

Officials report protective levees were topped or breached Wednesday in southwest Sarpy County and north of Pierce. 

The Nebraska State Patrol reported the bridge on U.S. 281 over the Niobrara River south of Spencer Dam appeared to be gone. The highway was already closed in the area.

The patrol also reported troopers, local officials and Nebraska Game and Parks officials were busy with water rescues overnight. Troopers have used a light armored vehicle to reach places a car or truck couldn't and Game and Parks brought in boats.

The National Weather Service says Loup River floodwater poses a threat to Genoa, where evacuations have occurred.

While eastern Nebraska dealt with flooding, western Nebraska residents struggled with blizzardlike conditions.

Wind gusts approaching 90 mph were reported in the Nebraska Panhandle. The wind, blowing snow and snow-packed roadways made travel treacherous. The blizzard warnings remain in effect through 6 p.m.

The Nebraska Transportation Department reports that Interstate 80 remains closed west of Kearney, and several highways are closed in the Panhandle and northeast Nebraska, including sections of U.S. 20.

Photos, videos from flooding and storms in Nebraska

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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