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Midwest flood damage will likely total more than $1 billion

Parts of Iowa submerged due to flooding
  • Most Nebraskans don't have flood insurance, with less than 10,000 policies issued for its nearly 2 million residents.
  • Federal flood maps are woefully outdated, leaving many unaware they even need this type of insurance.
  • Meat prices nationwide could increase due to shortages.
  • Farm bankruptcies were already on the rise in the now flood-ravaged Midwest.

As rampaging rivers continue to rise in the upper Midwest, destroying bridges and roads and isolating farming communities, the cost has already risen to more than a half-billion dollars. And it will probably total at least twice as much.

"The price tag for the catastrophic flooding in Nebraska and other parts of the Midwest will likely be over $1 billion when agricultural losses are included," warns Sarah Pralle, a political science professor at Syracuse University who specializes in environmental issues.

The losses will be worse for homeowners and farmers because most lack flood insurance. In the hardest-hit state of Nebraska, less than 10,000 policies are in effect statewide for its nearly 2 million residents, according to spokesperson Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute, which represents property-casualty insurers. "They will face devastating losses," predicted Pralle.

Estimated flooding losses for Midwest farmers could reach $1 billion

One reason for the lack of coverage is that federal flood maps are woefully outdated. Many residents in states like Nebraska are unaware they even need this type of insurance. "These outdated maps do not reflect real estate development and the climate change that is producing more intense storms," said Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America. "By allowing developers to do whatever they want, almost every community acts in ways that delay implementation of new maps."

Meat prices are rising already

Such an approach could end up hurting not only Nebraskans, but consumers all across the country. That's because they'll have to pay more for food, particularly meat. Prices for hogs and cattle rose Wednesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Agriculture contributes more than $25 billion to Nebraska's economy, and the state ranks fourth in the nation in meat production. But many herds have been almost completely obliterated. And it will be impossible to get the remaining cattle and hogs to market until impassable roads and bridges are repaired. Nebraska's Governor Pete Ricketts described the damage as the most widespread in the state's history.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts on response to worst flooding in state's history

Certain losses could be covered under farm insurance policies, but they're very specific. They may not cover grain that isn't stored in a silo or a power outage for the refrigeration needed on a dairy farm. Many farmers have federally subsidized crop insurance. But the problem is that under these policies, they'll have to work extremely fast to make sure their seeds are planted by a certain time, said Worters. And that could prove impossible if fields remain flooded.

"Record bankruptcies"

Many Nebraska farmers are already at a disadvantage because they're close to the financial breaking point. According to former North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, there are "record bankruptcies in the farming country" of the upper Midwest. These farmers are already reeling from setbacks, including a tariff war as other nations respond to higher U.S. tariffs with tariffs of their own on imported U.S. agricultural products.

The Midwest disaster is today's problem, but said Pralle, flooding is "a critical national issue that must be addressed more aggressively in an age of climate change."