Over the past few weeks, Nebraskans have endured weather conditions that are among the worst our state has ever seen.
Some of our small streams have become rivers, raging through our towns. The Elkhorn, Niobrara, and Missouri Rivers have breached their banks, leaving neighborhoods and businesses throughout eastern Nebraska submerged in record-setting floodwaters. I agree with Governor Ricketts: this catastrophic weather is the most widespread disaster in Nebraska’s history.
Recently I visited some of the communities that have been hit hard by the storm.
I had the opportunity to join Governor Ricketts in Omaha, where we participated in the Nebraska Broadcasters Association’s “Nebraska Strong” Drive for Flood Relief. This statewide phone-a-thon collected donations for the American Red Cross to aid the ongoing recovery efforts.
In Winslow, where every structure in town was flooded, I met with families outside of the destroyed city office and community center who have been directly affected by the flood. I spoke to a mother of three who had to evacuate her children during the storm and is now picking up the pieces. She told me she had just 15 minutes to gather her children and some family belongings before the floodwaters entered their home.
Winslow Volunteer Fire Chief Zachary Klein informed me that his team was able to get boats to help with the recovery efforts and they rescued over 29 residents from their flooded homes. Zach and his team are heroes to the Winslow community, and I had the chance to see firsthand the good work they are doing.
I also assessed the damage in Plattsmouth alongside Mayor Paul Lambert. Plattsmouth is a wonderful community where the Main Street runs down to the Missouri River. The town’s water and wastewater treatment plants are currently powered down and inaccessible. Their main concern, like many affected communities across Nebraska, is being able to gather facts and work quickly to make decisions about how to move forward.
I visited with the people of Valley and toured the devastation in the community with Mayor Carroll Smith and Councilwoman Cindy Grove. The effects of this storm are heart-wrenching, as tall mounds of the wreckage piled up at the garbage drop-off near the local park.
But, the Valley community is resilient and the surrounding towns have lent a helping hand. Local residents started a donation center where folks can pick up clothes, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, water, a hot meal, and other essentials as needed.
In North Bend, I met with local residents along with city and county personnel. They are understandably concerned about how their community will rebuild, but it was heartwarming to hear how the town is pulling together to support each other. I heard time and time again of how proud the community is of their volunteers who are managing donations through their distribution center at the local school.
I spoke with folks in cities like Fremont, Columbus, Norfolk, and small towns like Ashland and Sargent.
I heard from ranchers in central and western Nebraska who fought through a blizzard during calving. And what I heard most was that even though they suffered losses, they knew of others who were worse off.
Farmers stood looking at once fertile land, now covered with sand, mud, and unimaginably huge ice chunks. They are worried about what the future will bring.
I welcomed Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to survey the extent of the flood damage at Offutt Air Force Base. We received a preliminary damage assessment from Offutt leadership and discussed the response efforts successfully executed by the airmen. As their efforts continue, I will be working with Secretary Wilson to ensure Offutt is repaired swiftly and progress resumes on the much-needed runway replacement.
I spoke with the Secretaries of Agriculture and Transportation and conveyed to them the devastation we face and the long road to recovery before us.
I’m thankful that President Trump rapidly approved Governor Ricketts’s expedited request for federal disaster assistance. Over the coming weeks and months, I will continue working closely with the governor to help with the coordination of federal aid.
Nebraskans are resilient. We will rebuild and recover from this disaster.
As we move forward in our recovery, I will be fighting to provide for the specific needs of our hurting families and communities and working to identify ways the federal government can help get Nebraskans back on our feet.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you next week.