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Nebraska Is Starting To Recover After Devastating Floods


Today President Trump approved a disaster declaration in the state of Nebraska where flooding has already caused an estimated billion dollars in damage. Roads, bridges, homes, farms, businesses, crops, livestock are all damaged or lost. Nebraska Governor Republican Pete Ricketts is on the line now. Governor, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PETE RICKETTS: Thank you very much for having me on.

KELLY: Does this disaster declaration that the president has just signed off on - does it match what you asked for?

RICKETTS: Well, it is a great start for where we're looking. We asked for an expedited process. And while FEMA still has to go inspect some of the counties, as far as the individual assistance, this is going allow us to start working with FEMA right away to start working on the public infrastructure we have to fix as well as some of the individual assistance in some of the hardest-hit areas. So we're very, very pleased.

KELLY: How many of your counties in the state are still under a state of emergency?

RICKETTS: Actually, we've got 79 of our 93 counties, so just about 85 percent of our counties in the state have been impacted. This is the most widespread natural disaster we've ever experienced in Nebraska.

KELLY: Yeah. So now that this money has been approved - this federal money - what will it mean for your state? What will you use it for most urgently?

RICKETTS: Well, what it'll allow us to do is start working with FEMA on our plans to repair the public infrastructure. We've got about 200 miles of roads that cannot be used until they're repaired. We've got about 16 bridges that we have to repair. They're unusable right now. So there's the public infrastructure part, but it will also allow us to start working on the individual assistance.

So we've got over 2,000 people are out of their homes, or 2,000 homes have been damaged. We've got 341 businesses that are damaged or lost. So it'll help us with that individual assistance. It'll also allow us to bring the Small Business Administration in here to start working with those businesses and homeowners with regard to loans. So, again, really - it helps us kick off this recovery process.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, I'm hearing from what you're telling me that your state is very much still right in the thick of this. But that billion-dollar figure that I mentioned - the estimated billion dollars in damage - does that come close to reflecting the true cost?

RICKETTS: Well, that's our initial preliminary estimate. I expect that number will change because right now we've just estimated some of the damage - you know, the $400 million in cow calf losses, $445 million in crop losses, the $349 million in infrastructure, as well as $85 million in business and homes. That's all preliminary. That gets us to a billion, but when we have time to go in and assess, that number may go up. And then other things like insurance may help bring that number down.

KELLY: You mentioned that this is the worst such event that your state has faced, but this flooding comes just eight years after the last billion-dollar flood. Are there lessons learned from that last flood to apply to this one or to help you, God forbid, plan for the next?

RICKETTS: Well, that was a little bit different from the standpoint it only impacted the Missouri. And I think there were some issues with regard to how that occurred. In this case, what we've got is the ground was very frozen. There's a lot of snow on the ground. And then we got the rains, as well as a blizzard in our panhandle. And really what that meant was a lot of water just rushed into our river systems. And so we hit record crest in river systems like the Platte, the Loup, the Elkhorn, the Missouri where we'd never experienced that all at once. So certainly there's going to be things that we learn with regard to how we prepare our levees that will - going forward. But I just don't know how we could have anticipated this much water coming into our state all at once.

KELLY: And to the point you just made about levees and preparing for the next time, as you look at what needs to get done and fixed quite urgently, what - you know, give me an example of a couple of the projects you're planning to prioritize.

RICKETTS: Well, one of the things we know is that there may be a weather system moving in in a couple of weeks that may bring more snow and rain. And that could potentially put more pressure on the Missouri River. So we've got just a couple of weeks here to try and shore up our levee system along the Missouri before that weather hits. We also have a lot of roads that are out, as I've mentioned. And these are roads that allow people to commute. Some, for example, our kids can't get to school because bridges are out. So those will be the types of things that our Department of Transportation is prioritizing.

KELLY: That is Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. Thank you so much for your time. And good luck as you search your way through this.

RICKETTS: Great. Thank you very much. Our people are resilient. I know we'll get through this together. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.