As the floodwaters receded this week, Washington County residents along the Elkhorn River got their first glimpse of the damage caused by the historic, widespread flooding that impacted the state.
“We have not had a disaster that has been this widespread in the state, I don't think ever,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said Tuesday. “We've had disasters where we've had a greater loss of life. But as far as how many places have been touched by this, I don't think there's ever been a disaster this widespread in Nebraska.”
Vice President Mike Pence toured flood damaged areas by air with Ricketts, Sen. Ben Sasse and Rep. Don Bacon. He later visited with first responders in Waterloo and flood victims at Elkhorn Middle School.
“The hearts of the American people are with those who have been impacted across the Midwest,” Pence tweeted after he arrived at Eppley Airfield.
Ricketts also met with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Regional Director Paul Taylor and signed and submitted Nebraska's expedited request to the federal government for disaster assistance.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency posted estimates from across the state. The estimated statewide impact total as of Wednesday was $553.1 million public and $89 million private.
Initial damage assessments show estimates for Washington County to be $3.2 million public and $5.5 million private.
Washington County's totals are only for the western side of the county. Public estimates include the initial clean up and does not include roads or infrastructure. Private estimates are residential property only. It does not include agricultural land.
“A lot of it hasn't been reported,” Washington County Emergency Manager Dan Douglas said. “The water is just starting to go down, too.”
Douglas said the county roads department has yet to determine estimates as it works to get county roads passable.
“It will certainly go up from here,” he said.
Portions of U.S. Highway 30 and state Highway 91 in western Washington County are destroyed. The falling water levels revealed chunks of Highway 30 missing west of the Elkhorn River bridge. A similar scene could be found on Highway 91 at the Dodge-Washington county line.
While a timeline has not yet been given on when repair on the highways will begin, Douglas said it could be months before the roads are reopened.
Once the rest of the water recedes, Douglas said, crews will have to remove the damaged portions and let the land dry before they can assess the compaction of the soil underneath.
“It's just like building a brand new road at this point,” he said.
In Arlington, village officials have estimated 20 to 30 homes were damaged in the flood. Homes along First and Second streets, which were inundated with water after the Bell Creek overflowed its banks, may have the worst damage, Douglas said.
“I've heard some houses in Arlington may be a total loss,” he said.
Floodwaters surrounded Arlington Estates, rising as high as the bottom of the trailer homes. Three or four homes just west of Casey's General Store were also underwater.
Some residents have been able to return to their homes. However, restrictions still remain in place.
“As long as they can walk up to it, they can go back into it,” Douglas said. “If it takes a boat to get there, you can't go in.”
Homeowners who lost utilities must contact the Washington County Planning and Zoning Office to get their home inspected before it can be occupied again.
While western Washington County is beginning its recovery process, water on the eastern side of the county will remain high for some time.
“We're just entering into the worst part on the east side,” Douglas said. “The Missouri (River) should be peaking where it's at and it's going to go down very slowly.”
Clean up begins in Arlington
As some homeowners in the Arlington area returned to begin the clean-up-process, village officials set up a dumpster at Second and Eagle streets for flood clean-up.
Streets and Parks Commissioner Jon Rosenthal said the first dumpster brought in quickly filled up and was replaced with another.
Residents dropping off items should break down furniture, if possible. Residents are asked not to put tires or appliances in the dumpster.
"I feel kind of fortunate we were able to get two dumpsters in town today," Village Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Krause said during the board's meeting Monday.
The dumpsters will remain as long as there is a need, Krause said.
Tree limbs, corn stalks and yard waste can be dropped off at the Bell Creek Park west parking lot just north of Third and Ellsworth streets.
With water gone from the area, residents in Arlington Estates and others in areas south of Highway 30 returned to begin the clean-up effort Tuesday. Several residents had cars packed with belongings and a nearby business owner was also packing up items from his building.
Crews with the Union Pacific Railroad were also hard at work trying to repair areas of the tracks south of the highway. Trucks lined the side of the highway starting Friday and work continued Monday.
Rosenthal said he's working on a plan to clean up Bell Creek Park fields.
"My plan is to coordinate it with the clean up day with the other park," he said.
In looking at area roads, Krause said he had been in contact with county officials about any structural damage and repairs that might be needed on County Road 9.
Rosenthal said areas along First Street that had been covered by floodwaters look good. He plans to ask a representative from JEO Consulting to come look at Bell Street where a semi-truck came to rest after being swept away by floodwaters.
As the recovery effort continues, Sheriff Mike Robinson asked the village board if it planned to require out-of-area contractors to register at Village Hall, suggesting it might be a good idea to ensure they are a legitimate business.
"It's an issue when disasters happen," Robinson said.
Krause said he would talk with the City of Blair to see how they manage those types of situations.
"Maybe we can piggy-back off something they are doing or the county," Krause said.
Robinson encouraged village officials to also check with the Better Business Bureau.
"It will help citizens because you will have a list of contractors who have been registered through the village," he said.