By Karen Dillon
BROWNVILLE, Neb. (Reuters) – Severe flooding caused by rainfall and melting snow devastated farms and towns in Nebraska and Iowa on Tuesday, leaving at least four people dead and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence prepared to tour the area.
The floods, which followed a powerful winter hurricane that clobbered the region last week, inundated stretches of the two states, known for their agricultural industries, along the Missouri River.
The waters swamped homes, covering about a third of the U.S. Air Force Base that is home to the United States Strategic Command, and cut off road access to a nuclear power plant.
About 74 Nebraska cites had declared states of emergency by Monday evening, according to Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). More than 600 residents were evacuated and taken to American Red Cross-operated shelters.
Farms were deluged and rescuers could be seen in boats pulling pets from flooded homes. Some roadways crumbled to rubble, while others had sections submerged. Flood waters covered buildings in Hamburg, Iowa.
Damage to the state’s livestock sector was estimated at about $400 million, said Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. Livestock producers affected by the severe weather were in need of hay, fencing materials, feedstuff and equipment.
The state’s highway system suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, said Kyle Schneweis, director of the state Department of Transportation.
Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to visit Nebraska on Tuesday to survey the damage.
“Heading to Nebraska today to survey the devastating flood damage. To the people of Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas & all regions impacted: we are with you,!” Pence said in a post on Twitter early Tuesday. He will tour the zone with Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.
The flood waters were the result of snow melt following heavy rains last week and warm temperatures, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
The Missouri River, the longest in North America, has flooded much of Nebraska between Omaha and Kansas City.
At least one person was missing on Monday. The four reported deaths included one person in Iowa who was rescued from flood waters, but later succumbed to injuries, according to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office.
Roads leading to Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper nuclear plant near Brownville were engulfed by floodwaters from the Missouri River, but the facility was still operating safely at full power on Tuesday morning.
The operator was flying staff and supplies to the plant with helicopters, said NPPD spokesman Mark Becker.
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)
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