HARTINGTON — The full damage from last week’s devastating floods is still being realized.
There are still roads that have been too wet to get to, but so far, Cedar County Road Superintendent Carla Schmidt says the County first goal has been accomplished.
“Our goal right off the bat was for everyone to have at least a way out in case of an emergency, and it took us a few days to get to that point,” said Schmidt.
Many approaches to bridges are washed out, culverts have been compromised, canals have cut through roads, or water has completely washed away a section of roads.
“The word I keep going to when I go out and look at things is that it looks like an apocalypse,” said Schmidt. “It really does. If you go out in the country and look at some of the damage, you can’t get your head around what happened.”
Just over $24 million in damages have been reported by Cedar County to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. This gives Cedar County the dubious distinction of having the fourth highest flood damage total in the state.
Leading the way, Nance County has reported $231,360,400 and following them is Sarpy County with $105,972,900. Both of those numbers are just public damage estimates, with millions of dollars of private damage being listed as well.
Saunders County reported the third highest damage total with $25 million of public damages reported, with Cedar County following with $24 million in public damages.
“In this portion of Nebraska, I think the numbers are still pretty fluid,” said Cedar County Emergency Manager Kevin Garvin.” Some counties are going to go up, some are going to go down.”
In total, Nebraska has $553,100,736 reported for public damage, and another $89,040,740 reported in private damages. Both Schmidt and Garvin said they would not be surprised to see these numbers continue to rise closer to $1 billion of damage.
The problem though, is that total damage may not be realized before FEMA makes its conclusion on what level of emergency this was for Nebraska and other states hit by the bombogenisis storm that caused rampant ooding across the Midwest.
This is part of why Garvin and Schmidt both pled for patience from the public as the full scope of this project is understood.
The public needs to not go on “site-seeing tours” and stay out of barricaded areas that could put them at risk.
“I would just stress — if there are flags, cones, any type of barricade or anything like that — not drive around them because we have exhausted our resources for barricades and ags so they may not be barricaded as well as they could be but we have exhausted our resources,” said Schmidt. “I know there are people that want to see what is going on, but they will be putting themselves in danger, and rescue personnel in danger as well.”
Patience is also being requested since it is still being determined the extend of funding FEMA will be providing to cope with these losses.
On Friday, Garvin heard back from NEMA regarding the initial classi cation by FEMA for Nebraska.
“So the state asked for public assistance for the 70 some odd counties, and asked for private assistance for 17 counties and one tribe. FEMA granted individual assistance for nine counties. Public assistance gets broken into six different categories, and they basically only granted assistance for emergency work.”
This means only private assistance for individuals in nine counties are eligible to receive funds to help deal with their losses and damages.
With over half a billion dollars of damages listed to public works, this can cause a horrific impact to counties across Nebraska in terms of fixing roads and getting things back to where they were before the storm.
“If FEMA contributes, that is less of a local burden on local budgets, but that can only go so far,” said Garvin. “With all of this damage, there is only so much that can be done each budget year, so repairs are going to take an extended amount of time if FEMA is not involved. Whereas, if FEMA comes in and helps provide financial support that puts less strain on the local budget, and allows you to do repairs in a more timely fashion. It lessens the load the local taxpayers have to provide.”
Garvin continued by saying NEMA has offered guidelines of what FEMA wants to continue to evaluate their decision and potentially bump the emergency up to include public works assistance.
“So what is going to happen now is that FEMA wants more information on the rest of the damage, the rest of the permanent work, before they approve anything there,” said Garvin. “I got an email from the state breaking down what FEMA wants so we can get that to the state and they can feed it up the line.”
While most of the roads in Cedar County have been surveyed, that $24 million price tag is an estimate based on the expected amount of labor cost, contracting and engineering fees, and a conservative assumption of how much dirt and gravel will be needed for repairs.
“Our numbers were based on what we could get to," said Garvin. "We knew there were around 62 culverts impacted that we knew of, over 30 bridges that were potentially impacted with damage to the approach or something. So our formula here was we took what we knew, looked at years past of what it costs to redo a road per foot, estimated the number of feet, and did the math. So in the end ours will be kind of fluid as well.”
Damage spans throughout the entire county, but Garvin and Schmidt agreed one of the worst hit areas was north of Hartington all the way up to the Missouri River. One road specifically mentioned was what is locally known as the St. Helena bottom road that connects all the way to Highway 81.
“There is a bridge two miles off of Highway 81 that is closed because the approach failed and that is huge,” said Schmidt. “That is a road that has thousands of vehicles in a week. We are addressing that issue but I can’t even tell you a time frame right now of when that will be open. We do have a contractor and he is ready to go in and start working as soon as he can get the supplies he needs.”