'A Marathon, Not a Sprint:' Long-Term Flood Recovery Moves Forward

by Becca Costello, NET News

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Oct. 3, 2019, 3:17 p.m.

It's been nearly seven months since a bomb cyclone in March caused devastating flooding across most of eastern Nebraska, and communities are still working on recovery efforts.

On this week's episode of Speaking of Nebraska, we take a deeper look into how far communities have come and how much work still needs to be done.

FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Col. Constance Johnson-Cage says staffing has been a challenge because the unemployment rate is so low. But they’re committed to working in Nebraska for the long-haul.

"Something that we have to continue to communicate to the community is that recovery is a marathon – it’s not a sprint," Johnson-Cage said.

Watch And the Floods Came: Nebraska 2019

NET News documents the stories of survivors, first responders and local communities during the March flooding disaster.

She says the primary challenge for recovery efforts is the additional rain that's hit the state in the months since the original storm.

"So it's almost like the survivors cannot get control of their recovery," Johnson-Cage said. "Just by continually waiting for the rain to stop, and further damage has taken place, to where it's just hard to stay on top of it."

Elizabeth Troyer-Miller is the outreach coordinator for the Heartland Disaster Recovery Group, which works with families in Hall, Howard, Merrick and Hamilton counties. She says it’s been a stressful summer.

“We have individuals in the Howard County who, they’ve never dried out," Troyer-Miller said. "And that’s made it really difficult to put foundations back together, to put basements back together."

Watch the full discussion:

Mental Health

Many Nebraskans are struggling to work through their emotions about this catastrophic event. Calls to the Rural Response Hotline increased sharply in the weeks right after the flood, but have remained steady even months later.


(Graphic: Scott Friend & Joe McMullen, NET Nebraska)

Johnson-Cage says mental health is a large part of their recovery plan.

"Because this is tragic, this is traumatic. Even if it's one basement that was flooded, that's a huge disaster for a family," she said. "Mental health support is just as important as infrastructure or any other type of support."

Climate Change

As the nation and the world debate how best to address climate change, many wonder whether the March floods are an indication of the impacts here in Nebraska.

Martha Shulski

Director, Nebraska State Climate Office

Did climate change cause the flooding?

"I like to think about, how much worse was it made by climate change?" said Martha Shulski, Director of the Nebraska State Climate Office. "The floods in March, they were really a product of several different factors and timing was everything."

Shulski says the conditions leading up to the bomb cyclone made flooding much more likely.

"And that was the snowpack and the water equivalent that was sitting on top of the ground, it was the saturated ground and the frozen ground, and then we get several inches of rain that melts quickly," Shulski said. "So it was all of these events combined that led to this very significant impacts."

Can we expect more major flooding due to the changing climate?

"One signature of climate change is more extreme events, more heavy rainfall events, more erosion, more flash flooding, those kinds of episodes," Shulski said. "Unfortunately that's something we can expect to experience more of."

Coming up on Speaking of Nebraska

October 10: Mental health with Sheri Dawson, Nebraska Division of Behavioral Health Director, and Dr. Catherine Jones-Hazledine of Western Nebraska Behavioral Health

October 17: Rural drug use with Kirk Dombrowski, Rural Drug Addiction Research Center Director, and Tommy Newcombe, Behavioral Health Region 4 Consumer Specialist

October 24: Future of libraries with JoAnn McManus with the Nebraska Library Commission and Sarah Johnson, Geneva Public Library Director