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Since my last column our state, and the 41st district in particular, has suffered through flooding of historical proportions. Nebraska has more miles of rivers than any other state in the US, and for the first time ever, every single river in the eastern part of the state has crested at a new record high.
There’s been an enormous amount of damage to private business and homes, causing financial strain on our residents. There’s also been a tremendous loss of infrastructure, including damage to highways, roads, bridges, and railroad lines. In addition to the personal loss and hardship, all of the above has a negative impact on economic growth in our state, and rural Nebraska in particular.
Over the weekend, I had a chance to inspect some of the damage in our district, including to one of our local communities, where a majority of businesses and many homes took on serious damage. An event like this can have a devastating impact on any community, but especially our small rural communities.
My fellow state senators and I were briefed on Monday by the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Major General Bohac, who heads the agency as well as the Nebraska National Guard. At the briefing, we learned that calf losses alone from the flooding and the blizzard were estimated at 1 million heads. At the very conservative estimate of $200/head, that’s $200 million dollars in loss to the state economy – that’s before all the waters recede and we learn how these disasters are going to impact crop producers as well as our small town businesses.
But throughout all the bad news, I’ve been impressed by the sense of community I’ve witnessed as Nebraskans come together to help their neighbors in overcoming events such as this. Rural Nebraskans are resilient and self-sufficient. But there’s only so much they can do. That is why it is imperative that the federal government implement a disaster declaration. That can free up federal resources to help our state, our communities and our residents to overcome this disaster. Thankfully, the Governor and NEMA have requested an expedited Major Disaster Declaration from the President, through FEMA. In doing this, Nebraska may be able to see help much sooner than the six to eight weeks that it often takes to receive federal help after a disaster occurs. I appreciate the efforts of Governor Ricketts and our congressional delegation in their efforts to see that a federal disaster declaration be announced as soon as possible.
For those of you wondering what you can do in times like this, the best places to go will be right in your own community. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army, along with many churches and community groups, have been coordinating shelters and supplies for those who need them, and County Emergency Managers have been working with NEMA. As always, call 911 if you or someone you know is in an emergency situation.
Lastly, on the topic of legislation, there has been some movement on several of the bills I introduced or co-sponsored this year. I will give you more information on those issues in my next column.