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Untold stories of towns hit by catastrophic floods show the lasting impact of a 'true disaster'

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Experts warned that major flooding was coming, but few could fathom what would soon happen across much of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. Red points on the map show March 2019 record river crests.

World-Herald flood photos
Lynch map

At left, Laura Sucha stands outside the Country Cafe in Niobrara. The cafe was nearly destroyed when giant chunks of ice were launched in the area by floodwaters after the Spencer Dam failed. At right, a shell of the Spencer Dam was left on the Niobrara River.

Osmond map

"We’re used to the ball fields — it usually takes nothing for the ball fields to get flooded," said Osmond resident Missy Hoppe. "We could have never even been prepared for what happened here. It just came so rapidly."

Osmond quote
Norfolk map

Scenes like this were common across much of Nebraska and western Iowa during the floods. Residents were forced to evacuate their homes and seek shelter, leaving behind their homes and possessions.

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St. Edward map

At least one-third of St. Edward, a city of less than 800 northwest of Columbus, was underwater, according to Region 44 emergency manager Denise Ziembe. Thirty-one businesses and 101 houses were damaged.

Schuyler map

At left, two vehicles are in disarray in Bellwood, Nebraska, about 12 miles southwest of Schuyler. At right, debris floats in the Bellwood Lakes. 

Winslow map

Just six families in Winslow, a tiny Dodge County village, were back in their homes by the beginning of May. Every single building in Winslow — all 48 or so — was damaged to some degree by floodwaters. Now Winslow is caught in the middle of a much larger fight over flood control, one that could make or break the rural community.

Valley/Waterloo Map

A roughly 300-foot section of the levee at Union Dike on the Platte River was breached, allowing the Platte to come roaring in and flow down to Valley and Waterloo, where local officials went back-and-forth on whether to order evacuations. 

marlinpetermann (copy)

Marlin Petermann, assistant general manager of the Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District

Union Dike

The Union Dike near Valley, Nebraska, was built in the early 1900s by what was then called a drainage district. Before 2019, the last time it breached was 1978, according to Marlin Petermann, an engineer and the assistant general manager for the Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District.

Pacific Junction/Hamburg map

At left, Hamza Alshargabi works with Team Rubicon to help strip a house after floodwaters receded in Pacific Junction. At right, corn stalks leftover from floodwaters cover a van just east of Pacific Junction on April 19. The evacuation order for the Iowa town was lifted after weeks of flooding.

Agrivision photos

Farm equipment dealer AgriVision had two Iowa locations, in Pacific Junction and Hamburg, that were badly damaged by flooding. The Pacific Junction store, shown here, took on 8 to 9 feet of water. 

Peru map

At left, Peru State football players work with faculty and staff to load sandbags. At right, Peru State women's basketball players Maddy McPhillips and Keaundra Washington, fill sandbags.

Pierce map

The Pierce Historical Society Museum took on 18 inches of floodwaters during historic flooding in March 2019. The free museum, near Pierce's downtown, houses nearly 3,000 artifacts. There's an old railroad depot, a school, a blacksmith shop and farm machinery.