Two and a half months after historic flooding, rising rivers on Tuesday were again closing roads and threatening homes and businesses in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.
Along the Missouri River, rural and riverside residents in Mills County, Iowa, were preparing to evacuate. Along the Platte in Nebraska, residents around Hanson Lakes, south of Bellevue, were sandbagging a levee that was already being overtopped by the river.
Major routes have again begun closing or restricting travel, including Interstate 29 in Missouri and two key Missouri River crossings between Nebraska and Iowa. (U.S. 34 south of Offutt Air Force Base closed Tuesday evening and Highway 2 at Nebraska City closed Saturday. A third is at risk of closing, Interstate 680.) A detour also is in place off I-29 between 25th Street and 16th Street in Council Bluffs.
At 11 a.m. Wednesday, Iowa transportation officials closed I-29 in both directions from U.S. Highway 34 to the Missouri border. The current detour is U.S. 71 from Missouri to I-80 in Iowa.
In the Omaha metro area, many residents spent Tuesday shoveling hail off their driveways, picking up branches and inspecting their bedraggled, pockmarked landscape in the wake of an early morning hailstorm and torrential rains.
The only good news is that the worst of the severe weather is over for now in the metro area. The sun should peek out again Wednesday, and the region should catch a few days’ break in the weather before storm chances return this weekend.
Over the last week, rainfall totals in the region have been running at 400% to 600% above normal, according to the National Weather Service. The Missouri River, which has been flooding through holes in levees since mid-March, rose rapidly Tuesday. It’s expected to continue rising into late this week. The Platte also was rising.
“Everything is saturated,” said Sandy Weyers, director of Cass County Emergency Management. “There’s no place for this rain to go.”
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Roads officials warned of the potential for major road closings, and by Tuesday night, those warnings were proving true. U.S. 34, an important east-west route between Iowa and Nebraska, closed from south of Bellevue on the Nebraska side to I-29 on the Iowa side. This was on the heels of the weekend closure of Highway 2, which connects Iowa to Nebraska at Hamburg and Nebraska City.
Also on Tuesday, the southbound lanes of I-29 in northern Council Bluffs closed due to pooling water, and traffic was rerouted locally.
Numerous county roads along rivers and streams closed Tuesday.
Among the major routes at risk of closing:
» Interstate 680.
» Interstate 29 near Honey Creek.
Highway 275 in Nebraska has water on it north of Nickerson, according to state officials. It’s down to one lane a few miles south of West Point.
Nebraska officials were watching Highway 75 north of Plattsmouth near the Platte River, said Tim Weander, Omaha area district engineer for the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
Officials once again implored residents not to drive through water-covered streets. Fast-moving currents can sweep away a vehicle, and water sometimes de-stabilizes roadways.
A U.S. Postal Service driver found that out the hard way in Washington County, Nebraska. The driver’s postal truck got shoved off the highway by flooding water as the driver attempted to push through. Washington County sheriff’s officials rescued the driver, unharmed.
“Please heed the advice of the safety professionals,” said Lonnie Burklund, Lincoln’s assistant director of transportation. “If there’s water over the surface of a street or rural roadway, please don’t drive through it.”
Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers again began stepping up releases from Gavins Point Dam. Releases will be increased to 70,000 cubic feet per second. They were at 55,000 cfs earlier this month, before heavy rains began causing problems. Over the last seven days, rainfall over much of Nebraska, South Dakota and central North Dakota has been 200% to 600% of normal, according to the corps.
The rising Missouri River is expected to worsen flooding of the metro area’s major parks, including N.P. Dodge, Hanafan, Fontenelle and Haworth.
People in some river communities were preparing to evacuate if the situation got worse overnight or in the days ahead.
Soggy! That's one word for it. Over the last 7 days, rain amounts have been in the 400-600% range above normal! As the map shows, its been wet everywhere. After tomorrow the forecast dries out, but bigger rivers will be high all summer. #floody pic.twitter.com/kIUHAoYCr9— NWS Omaha (@NWSOmaha) May 28, 2019
The Plattsmouth Emergency Medical Services Department warned via its Twitter account early in the afternoon that the Platte and Missouri Rivers were rapidly rising in and around Plattsmouth.
The department advised: “If you are in an area which previously flooded a few months ago, get out NOW.”
Third time is a charm: the Platte and Missouri rivers are rising rapidly in and around Plattsmouth. Homes are already reporting flooding in the Buccaneer Bay area. Pre-planning is currently taking place in the event a repeat of the last flood occurs.— Plattsmouth EMS (@plattsmouth_ems) May 28, 2019
In Mills County, Iowa, mandatory evacuations could be coming for the area south of Gaston Avenue to the Mills/Fremont County line and west of I -29 to the Missouri River.
Residents of Hanson’s Lakes put out a call Tuesday for volunteers to fill and place sandbags on the levee. About 30 people had gathered to help late in the afternoon and work was to be suspended at dark due to the dangers.
“We’re doing the best we can to fight off the Platte River,” said Chip Frazier, the president of Sanitary Improvement District 101, which oversees the Hanson’s Lakes area.
Frazier said the levee there was holding as of late afternoon, but water was spilling over and through it in some places. Hanson Lake 1 is flooding, too.
“It’s like whack-a-mole,” he said. “As soon as we fill a low spot, we get more low spots, start getting boils in the dike.”
World-Herald staff photographer Chris Machian contributed to this report.