As a small crowd looked on, construction worker Ron Bomer gently guided his front-end loader through its chore: Lift up and slide out a three-ton steel panel from Omaha's floodwall.
Steel scraped against concrete, and as Bomer backed the Tab Construction bulldozer away from the Missouri Riverfront, water trapped inside the panel dribbled a path behind him.
Someone whooped. A handful of others clapped.
After three months of fighting back historic floodwaters, Friday marked nearly a week that the river at Omaha was below flood stage, Mayor Jim Suttle said at an event to mark the barrier's removal.
"We are no longer in an emergency situation, our ... neighborhoods and businesses are no longer facing imminent threats of a potential levee breach," Suttle said. "After a summer of uncertainty, we are getting our city back to normal."
So far, the flood fight has cost the city about $12 million, and damage is expected to reach into the tens of millions of dollars, Marty Grate of Omaha's public works department said. Much of that spending is eligible for federal disaster reimbursement.
With the removal of the gate next to Rick's Cafe Boatyard, all but a few areas of the Lewis & Clark Landing are open.
Another bit of good news Friday: Pershing Road past N.P. Dodge Park is open, though the park remains closed.
These small milestones mark an end to one stage of the battle — fears of overland flooding from the river.
But Grate emphasized that the city's drainage system was not yet fully functional. A heavy rainfall could flood low-lying areas, he said.
The city is sending divers into the river to check drainage outlets into the river, some of which have been blocked by six to eight feet of silt. Grate said the city continues to test those flaps to see if they'll open and drain urban runoff.
Until that system is functional, Omaha will continue to run emergency pumps to force runoff over the levee and into the river.
"Rain is still not our friend," he said. "We're still a bathtub without a drain."
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