Nebraska governor calls flooding "most widespread destruction we've ever seen in our state's history"

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts says farmers are bearing the brunt of "the most widespread destruction we have ever seen in our state's history." Ricketts spoke to CBSN on Wednesday about the dire set of circumstances Nebraska faces after the unprecedented flooding disaster.

Rickets declared a state of emergency as more rain is expected to soak the already flooded region. States of emergency have also been declared in Iowa, Wisconsin and South Dakota. Record-setting flooding hit the Midwest due to a confluence of conditions that include the recent bomb cyclone storm, as well as frozen ground melting in the spring, warming weather patters and heavy rain. The bomb cyclone pummeled the region with low pressure, heavy rains and blizzard-like conditions before melting off and spawning floods that have forced more than 4,400 people to evacuate their homes.

"Obviously we've got a lot of recovery left ahead of us," Ricketts told CBSN. "It's going to be a long road for us to rebuild our infrastructure and get people back in their homes."

The floods have been nothing short of catastrophic: At least three people have died, and estimated farm loses could top $1 billion. Parts of 15 states are under flood watches and warnings. Ricketts said 14 state bridges were damaged and 200 miles of highways can't be used until roads are repaired.

"We're still very focused on keeping people safe right now and as late as yesterday we were still conducting rescues of people," he added.

Flooded areas are seen in Bellevue, Nebraska, on March 19, 2019.  Reuters

No group of Nebraskans have been hit harder by the floods than the state's farmers, who form the backbone of the region's agricultural economy.

"In our initial assessment, we've got $400 million in livestock loses and $440 million in grain losses," Ricketts said. "We're encouraging our farmers and ranchers to contact their local FSA office, Farm Service Agency, to notify them that they've got these loses and to keep track of this, so they can take advantage of things like the livestock indemnity program." He said there's also a conservation program for farmers whose land needs to be rehabilitated.

Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Omaha, Nebraska on Tuesday to survey the damage and offer support to the region. Ricketts said the state's coordination with the federal government has been "fantastic" thus far, stating that he's spoken to regional EPA administrator Paul Taylor, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Cho, and officials at FEMA, who helped the state get its disaster declaration prepared. He said Nebraska has filed paperwork for federal disaster relief funds.

Ricketts also praised the American Red Cross, which has worked to provide shelter and meals for state residents. "The Red Cross has been great," the governor said. "They've been the ones setting up most of the shelters we have across our state and serving thousands of meals to take care of folks."  Ricketts estimated Nebraska has 475 people in shelters.

When asked for a timeline for full recovery once the waters recede, Ricketts said it will be "a months-long process" and referenced a 2011 flood, where it took 108 days for the waters in one region of Nebraska to recede before farmers could access their water treatment plant.

"We know this will be a long recovery," Ricketts said. "We will work as quickly as possible to get people back in their homes to provide that relief. But when it comes to the major projects like our public infrastructure, roads, bridges, we're going to need the public's patience because it is going to take a while to get all of this recovered."

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