City officials said Wednesday that a Coast Guard disaster response team will spend two weeks in Omaha assessing the city's watercraft needs in the event of a flood-related emergency.
The Coast Guard has agreed to provide three 16-foot flat-bottom boats for search-and-rescue efforts and wellness checks if there is a catastrophic levee failure on the Missouri River.
Coast Guard team members were expected to arrive by the end of the week.
More boats could come to Omaha, should the Coast Guard deem them necessary.
Assistant Omaha Fire Chief Dan Stolinski emphasized that taking steps to obtain watercraft was precautionary and that city officials remain confident that the city's levee system will hold.
The city has met with some neighborhood groups and is meeting with downtown businesses and east Omaha industries about the flood risk.
Council Bluffs has issued a “Level 1” alert status, which signifies a slowly developing flood situation for which preparations are prudent.
Omaha doesn't have a similar name for its current flood status, but the conditions are the same. Affected Omahans should prepare for possible evacuation, city officials said.
For those in the Omaha area, preparations include locating and consolidating important personal papers, moving family heirlooms to higher ground and identifying a post-evacuation meeting site.
Local officials originally requested 10 vessels on standby from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency for potential evacuations, but Stolinski said that request was denied.
The Coast Guard eventually contacted Douglas County officials to offer its help.
The Omaha Parks Department could use watercraft to continue boat recovery work at N.P. Dodge Park marina, Stolinski said, where several vessels are floating and could damage levees or bridge embankments if they break free of their moorings.
The Public Works Department will also use the Coast Guard boats to continue their work in flooded areas, including maintaining and protecting water pump stations and removing debris that could damage levees.
The public marina is closed, and the Missouri River is closed to recreational boating.
Watercraft also could be needed if floodwaters inundate northeast Omaha — a worst-case scenario.
“Fire needs a rescue boat — if there is a (levee) breach — for search-and-rescue and even just bringing business owners or property owners back to check operations,” Stolinski said. “Same with police.”
Officials said Wednesday that local levees remain in good shape.
Stolinski said the original boat request was made early in the city's flood fight and was not prompted by any new concerns about the city's levee integrity.
“This is just part of the planning,” he said.
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