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Nebraska Towns Struggle To Pay Their Share Of Flooding Relief


The next question for a small Nebraska town is how to pay for the cleanup. It's one of many Midwestern towns that flooded. The flooding dunked a lot of key infrastructure, including the water treatment plant, which means a town inundated with water is also short of water that is safe to drink. Fred Knapp of NET News followed officials assessing the damage.

FRED KNAPP, BYLINE: Plattsmouth, Neb. - a city of about 6,500, with its red brick courthouse and century-old main street - sits near the confluence of the Platte and Missouri rivers, so it's seen floods before. Until now, the worst was 2011, when the Missouri climbed 10 feet above its banks. City Administrator Erv Portis said the city reacted and tried to plan ahead.

ERV PORTIS: We made some repairs in 2011 based on that flood of all floods' historic cresting. Guess what? We were wrong.

KNAPPP: Saturday, the Missouri crested at a new record - 14 feet above flood stage. Plattsmouth's now getting water from a nearby rural district, but that's only about one-third its normal use. And like many communities, including the city of Omaha, its sewage is flowing untreated into the river.

Thursday, from a muddy bank on what used to be East Main Street, officials guided a boat out onto the swollen river past a few trailer homes that somehow stayed put while a dozen others washed away. Most residents evacuated in time, but one woman had to be rescued. Reaching the water plant, plant operator Brian Wagner describes what the floodwaters have done.

BRIAN WAGNER: We've got - the generator is completely under. Our switch gears, fuse boxes, chemical feed pumps, air blowers...

KNAPPP: Fixing those problems will cost a lot. The city council's authorized emergency borrowing of up to $15 million - equal to last year's budget - so repairs can begin. But Portis says that's a heavy burden.

PORTIS: Fifteen million on the backs of our community of 6,500 - that's a small base. So that's a - it's a significant expense.

KNAPPP: City officials say they hope the federal government will eventually pay 75 percent and the state of Nebraska another 12.5 percent. But resources will be stretched. Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said Wednesday the state suffered nearly a billion and a half dollars worth of damage between losses of livestock, crops, infrastructure, homes and businesses.

Thursday, President Trump issued a major disaster declaration, making funds available for emergency work in 65 of Nebraska's 93 counties and for individual homeowners and businesses in nine.

For NPR News, I'm Fred Knapp in Plattsmouth, Neb. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Fred Knapp