Omaha, Douglas County officials stress safety at press conference

Published: Mar. 15, 2019 at 2:22 PM CDT
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Mayor Jean Stothert on Friday declared a state of emergency for the City of Omaha, freeing up emergency funds to help with cleanup and aid even though the evacuation and rescue process was still underway.

The mayor along with other city and county officials held a press conference on Friday to update Douglas County residents on local flooding and to stress residents should put safety first.

The Department of Natural Resouces said levels are stabilizing, but there's still a lot of water in the basin and extended high flows are possible for quite some time. All officials urged residents to heed evacuation warnings — not go looking for floodwater — so they don't find themselves in need of evacuation.

Paul Johnson from the Douglas County Emergency Management Agency said there are flooding issues on both sides of the county: A breach in a dike north of the county had already greatly impacted Valley and Waterloo. Access to Valley has been restricted, and Q Street currently serves as the only way to get to Waterloo.

City Commissioner Mary Ann Borgenson thanked emergency responders and pleaded with residents to evacuate when told by officials and rescue personnel to do so. She also asked people to stop going out to look at flooded areas so that they will not get hurt and add more work for emergency personnel.

Officials are not sure exactly how many rescues have been completed, but did say about 200 people were evacuated from rural stream areas; and asked that drivers stop trying to travel to evacuated areas as they are at times preventing others from getting out.

Some people refused to follow evacuations, which has created dangerous situations, with 9-1-1 calls for help coming in during dark, late-night and early-morning hours.

Nebraska Task Force One was deployed to the area to assist with rescues, which have been extra critical due to cold water and the potential for hypothermia.

Stothert gave an update on the status of the wastewater treatment plant that was shut down by flooding. While it is shut down, wastewater from 600,000 residents will enter the Missouri River without treatment. A second wastewater plant remains operational, she said.

The mayor also reminded residents that the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge is closed.

Adi Pour with the health department said anyone going to help with cleanup should make sure to have a tetanus shot. Floodwater can not only be harmful to rescuers but also when it gets into septic tanks and private wells, she said The health department recommends cleaning tanks and any water contaminating homes as soon as possible.