Omaha attorney David Domina traveled to Niobrara this week after fielding many inquiries about whether legal action could be taken as a result of the damage from the failure of the Spencer Dam in March.
The Niobrara Lutheran Church’s fellowship hall was full of area residents — homeowners, farmers and businessmen — some of whom suffered severe losses as a result of the wall of water that hit the part of the Niobrara business district and area farmland after the dam failed.
But Domina did not have good news.
“The Spencer Dam is owned by the Nebraska Public Power District, which is covered specifically in the state statutes under tort law,” Domina said.
Domina told the Niobrara residents that the statutes contain limited liability provisions when damage occurs. The statute determines a limit of $1 million per claim per occurrence and a limit of $5 million per occurrence for all claimants.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
Domina then presented the most recent estimates from the four counties involved in the Spencer Dam incident, noting that Knox County leads the way with more than $17 million in damage.
“So you see, the counties will claim damages. If any damages are awarded ... monies will dwindle quickly or be all gone,” Domina said. “I know that is not what you want to hear. No matter who you are or the circumstances, the law is specific.”
Domina said Wednesday that he’s been retained by a couple of the downstream landowners to investigate possible claims against the district, but he declined to name the clients.
District spokesman Mark Becker reaffirmed the district’s stance: An unprecedented amount of water and mammoth pieces of floating ice besieged a dam that was designed for the generation of electricity, not for flood control.
Domina said there is no doubt that the rivers have been reconfigured since 1954, but it would take a lot of science and engineering to prove who is responsible for the significant losses from that day of flooding.
One person was killed when the earth and concrete dam collapsed. The home of Kenny Angel, which was below the dam, was swept away by the wall of water and ice. His body still has not been found.
Becker said he couldn’t comment about the legal claim that Angel’s family has filed against the district.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
Floods devastate Nebraska, Iowa in March 2019
A list of ways to help in the aftermath of the widespread flooding in Nebraska and Iowa.
By itself, the 'bombogenesis' would not have dealt Nebraska such a crippling blow. Our harsh winter set the stage. When the two combined, they produced Nebraska’s worst flooding in 50 years and worst blizzard in nearly as many years.
This recent deluge created damage immeasurably worse than anything in Camp Ashland's 100-year history, a National Guard officer says.
After a Facebook plea for help, volunteers show up to save rare San Clemente Island goats from a farm near Gretna.
What is perhaps Omaha’s greatest vulnerability lies in a potential flash flooding event caused by widespread, heavy rain in the Papillion Creek Basin, according to officials with the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District.
Girls will get a makeover and a dress; apparel is still needed for boys headed to prom.
The first Sunday after the flood, with the basement still stinking and roads outside submerged, Pastor Carl Ratcliff preached from a couch, streaming it to church members via Facebook Live. Last Sunday, after the basement had been scrubbed and sanitized by volunteers, he knew it was time to return.
Nebraskans in nine counties who have been impacted by the recent flooding can now apply for assistance from the state and federal government.
Vehicles from across the United States are converging on Nebraska, filled with hay, livestock feed, food and household goods.
The refuge will remain closed until engineers are able to assess the damage. "We have not had to evacuate the visitor center or our headquarters building. The only significant damage has been to our roads," says Tom Cox, director of the refuge.
We compiled stories about some unsung heroes who helped out in the aftermath of the recent flooding.
The #NebraskaStrong drive was hosted by the Nebraska Broadcasters in partnership with the American Red Cross.
Some homeowners may have to wait weeks or months for help.
Just over 8,500 Nebraskans, and a similar number of Iowans, have flood insurance policies. That’s a fraction of the people whose property the flooding has struck. And more could be damaged still as the flood threat lingers.
Conditions continue to indicate Nebraska has not seen the last of flooding, starting with forecasts for this weekend calling for up to an inch of rain Friday into Saturday across portions of Nebraska.
The fridge was packed full of Bud Light and Busch Light, and even the ice maker was still full.
It’s not that the Omaha area didn’t see its share of the record-setting floodwater that turned neighboring towns to islands and caused, so far, hundreds of millions in damage. It's that Omaha was able to withstand it.
In the before-and-after visuals below, using imagery from the EU's Sentinel-2 satellite, you can see whole Nebraska towns fall victim to the floods.
Beer giant Anheuser-Busch is sending more than 100,000 cans of emergency drinking water to Nebraska communities affected by the historic flooding.
Larry the Cable Guy is helping out those affected by the recent floods. All of his proceeds from his concert Wednesday at Pinnacle Bank Arena will be donated to the Red Cross for disaster relief in Nebraska, he said on Twitter.
From the banks of the Platte River, the Otoe Indians gave the wide, meandering waterway a name: Nebrathka. Roughly translated: flat water.
People who populate the towns and small lake communities along the Platte River west and south of Omaha were taking stock of their homes and futures this week. Some of the properties are second homes or summer getaways, but just as many are full-time residences, from small mobile homes to comfortable villas.
“I think farmers are putting their best foot forward even though damage is probably worse than they’re saying,” one industry source said.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency has posted estimates of monetary damages from flooding and recent storms across the state.
Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, estimated that there will be $400 million to $500 million in livestock losses and about $400 million in crop losses because spring planting will be delayed or canceled.
Levees along some 210 miles of the Missouri River from Bellevue, Nebraska, to Leavenworth, Kansas, have failed or are at risk of failing, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
“People leave their dogs in my care and I give them my word that these dogs are going to be safe,” said the owner of a pet motel.
On Thursday, two boats had capsized in the high winds and raging waters east of Fremont during an attempted rescue of a family that had called for help.
After drenching rains Tuesday and heavy snow on Wednesday, Gibbon’s low spots became apparent, first as water filled streets to the curb, and later on Thursday and Friday as the water spilled into lawns and driveways before lapping at foundations. “I’ve never seen so much water, or the force and damage it can do in a short time,” firefighter Jamey Rome said.
As floodwaters in some areas began to level out or slowly recede, the reality set in that cleanup and reconstruction efforts would stretch months — or longer.
Thirty buildings, including the 55th Wing headquarters and the two major aircraft maintenance facilities, had been flooded with up to 8 feet of water, and 30 more structures damaged. About 3,000 feet of the base’s 11,700-foot runway was submerged. No one, though, had been injured.
In areas like Boyd County and Glenwood, water shortages and boil-water orders could last for weeks as critical water and sewer infrastructure is repaired.
Rescuers were unable to get to Betty Hamernik because of the fast current, high waves and wind gusts of 60 mph, according to the Platte County Sheriff’s Office.
The devastation in this recreation-based community of 370 was a testament to the pummeling power of Mother Nature when huge chunks of winter ice are propelled by an estimated 11-foot wall of water. In that way, it was a different scene than many others across flood-ravaged Nebraska.
Work to improve the levee system has been in the planning or construction stages almost from the time the Missouri River dropped below flood stage in the fall of 2011.
When Lisa Lemus was about to close the door to her house in the Paradise Lakes neighborhood, the “backyard of Offutt Air Force Base,” she knew that everything she was leaving behind would be destroyed.
A pickup driver drove around a barricade at Skyline Drive and West Dodge Road about 10:45 p.m. into high floodwaters and stalled, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said.
When the Elkhorn River marooned the city on one side and the Platte cut off access, the people of Fremont were all in the same position of being stuck. And they were of a united spirit in wanting to do something about that.
Both Ricketts and U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, whose own Fremont-area home was taking in water, said they had been in contact with President Donald Trump in the past 24 hours. Sasse said he had also spoken to Vice President Mike Pence.
On Saturday, high-rail vehicles provided by Union Pacific Railroad, which traveled along U.P. tracks, transported evacuees to a shelter at Elkhorn Middle School.
Gov. Pete Ricketts toured the Platte and Loup Rivers by helicopter with the Nebraska National Guard and after a short stop in Norfolk, planned to survey the Elkhorn River.
That reality hit home here on Friday as Fremont residents and visitors alike became stranded. In every direction, roads out of town were blocked by floodwaters. Fremont, a town of 26,000, was surrounded.
CJ Cunningham knew things were getting bad when the water was about ankle or knee deep around 1 a.m. Friday, so he took his family as high as he could get them. "We got up on that roof," Cunningham said. Then he called for help.
Rescuers worked through life-threatening conditions overnight to pull hundreds of people from homes encircled by floodwaters — and more work lies ahead.
The Corps of Engineers' explanations of what it did and why will do little to soothe people who experienced flooding along the Missouri River, and political leaders are leveling varying degrees of criticism.
The bill for destroyed roads, bridges, culverts, water systems and flooded buildings will be in the millions.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Speaker Jim Scheer, while surveying storm damage in the state, stopped at the Norfolk airport Friday …
Historic flooding in Nebraska and Iowa has claimed at least one life, flooded an unknown number of towns and cut off communities — and the worst could still be ahead.
Seven people were taken to the hospital apparently suffering from hypothermia, at least one in critical condition, according to 911 dispatch reports.
Late Thursday afternoon, the searchers were still finding people holed up in homes surrounded by at least a couple of feet of brown water.
After the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River was compromised, water washed out a road, a tavern and more, and inundated pastures and livestock pens.
Flooding is causing extensive damage across Nebraska and Iowa on Thursday.
Nebraskans are nervously scanning the skies and checking their basements for water creeping in as forecasters and home contractors warn of flooding that could do some damage.
Hay is going out to help farmers and ranchers as quickly as people donate it.
An official with the state office of the Farm Services Agency said Monday that because of earlier livestock losses from below-zero temperatures and wet animals, the agency has asked the federal government to add another 30 days to the period in which livestock deaths can be covered by federal aid.
The 2 inches of rain that fell on the frozen Niobrara earlier this month sparked more than just flooding. On a long stretch of the river, chunks of ice had nowhere to go but up and across land.
In the 47 years that Mike Kaminski’s dad, Darrell, has lived on the family’s farm along the west side of the Middle Loup River south of Loup City, an area of sandy hills 6 to 8 feet high along the river never had flooded. Not when heavy, wet snow melted. Not when 5 to 6 inches of rain fell. Not until this month.
The two, ages 27 and 59, were found dragging 40-foot roofing trusses from a wooded area near 252nd and State Streets.
The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, United Way and more all have ways in which you can help those affected by the flooding.
Sherman County farmer-cattleman Richard Panowicz knows nothing will ever be the same after this month’s winter cyclone triggered a flood on the Middle Loup River less than a half-mile from his back door.
Tax relief is available to some of those affected by the historic storm and flooding that occurred this month.
The State of Nebraska released some numbers Sunday to help quantify the recent flooding and blizzard in the state.
“They come in overwhelmed by what they have lost at home, and some of them begin to cry,” said volunteer Sabrina Ayala. “Then they see all the volunteers and the support. They are amazed. I’ve heard ‘Thank you’ so many times this week.”
Michelle Oertwich says she picked the right guy after her then-fiancé moved quickly to arrange for a second wedding date.
The bones appear to have been in the water for an extended period of time, officials said.
Brenda Bolkema wondered if she'd be able to see her mother before she died. Then a pilot volunteered to fly her into the flooded town.
More than 800 tons as of Wednesday, if you're keeping tabs.
It's one of the largest campaigns ever for the organization, a spokesman said.
An informal survey of about 100 Pacific Junction residents this week revealed many are still unsure of how to proceed, an official said. Fifty percent of respondents said they were unclear about their next step, 40% vowed to stay and 10% indicated they were leaving for good.
Scott E. Goodman, 30, was swept away by floodwaters near Norfolk on March 14. His body has not been recovered.