Two words summed up Saturday’s conference on potential flooding in the Omaha area:
Federal, state and local officials delivered that message to more than 100 people who showed up for the Emergency Preparedness Conference in north Omaha.
Assistant Omaha Fire Chief Dan Stolinski told the group that if a flood evacuation is ordered, it won’t be like a tornado warning.
“You will not hear tornado sirens,” Stolinski said.
Instead, he said, emergency broadcasts on television, radio and online, along with police officers using megaphones in affected neighborhoods, would inform people of any imminent evacuation.
The conference, organized by U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., was held at the Lake Point Building at 24th and Lake Streets.
City officials have identified about 11,000 Omaha and Carter Lake residents who might be evacuated if the levee breaks. Mailers outlining the potential threat have been sent to residents and business owners in the flood zone.
Two Omaha residents came to the meeting to have two questions answered.
“We wanted to know how likely it is that the levee will go kaput,” Shirley Davis said. “And how much time we’d have to get out,” Joyce Smith added.
Teresa Reinig, an Omaha official with the Army Corps of Engineers, said there was no way to know how much time people would have if there is a levee breach.
It would depend on where the levee breaks, how severe it is and the time of day.
While the Missouri River has dropped slightly since July 2, river levels at Omaha are expected to remain high well into August. The high levels will test the levee system up and down the river.
A woman representing the Nite Hawkes Cafe, 4825 N. 16th St., which is in the evacuation zone, asked how she would know if she needs to evacuate the business. She lives near Immanuel Medical Center.
Stolinski said she would learn through emergency broadcasting and news media.
“But what if it’s 2 in the morning?” she asked.
Another option, someone said, would be buying a weather radio.
One woman noticed that she was the only person present at the meeting from her block, which is well within the flood zone.
“Do people have a false assurance that everything will be all right?” she asked.
Officials repeated the theme of the meeting: We just have to be prepared.
Cindy Newsham, administrative assistant for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said a letter is in the works asking President Barack Obama to declare parts of eastern Nebraska a disaster area.
She said it is essential for people who have homes affected by the flooding to call the Nebraska hotline at 855-211-2453, which is operating seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
It will be impossible to fully assess the damage until floodwaters recede, so NEMA will be relying on the number of calls that come in to the hotline to prove the state’s need for a disaster declaration.
Smith, a flood zone resident, said she’s taken numerous steps to prepare for possible flooding.
“We’ve packed up all of our collectibles, things that can’t be replaced. Our trunk is full, and I’ll be ready to go,’’ she said.
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