By Karen Dillon
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Reuters) - Missouri's governor declared a state of emergency on Thursday as floodwaters that left a swath of destruction across Nebraska and Iowa surged downstream, swamping small towns, roads and farmland in the U.S Midwest.
Flooding triggered by last week's so-called "bomb cyclone" storm has already inflicted damage estimated at nearly $1.5 billion in Nebraska, killed at least four people in Nebraska and Iowa and left a man missing below Nebraska's collapsed Spencer Dam.
"The rising floodwaters are affecting more Missouri communities and farms, closing more roads and threatening levees, water treatment plants and other critical infrastructure," Governor Mike Parson said in issuing his emergency declaration.
"We will continue to work closely with our local partners to assess needs and provide resources to help as Missourians continue this flood fight and as we work to assist one another," Parson said.
The declaration allows resources and assistance to be provided directly to counties and municipalities that need aid to deal with worsening flood conditions locally.
Public safety officials have said continued flooding of the Missouri River in the days ahead is unlikely to reach the widespread, catastrophic scale seen in Nebraska and parts of Iowa - partly because much of the excess flow has dissipated through numerous levee breaches upstream that have left less water in the river’s channel.
But the extensive flooding seen in Nebraska and Iowa was forecast to continue in the wider region through May and become more dire in coming weeks as water flows downstream, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said on Thursday.
"This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk," Ed Clark, director of NOAA's National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said on Thursday in the agency's spring outlook.
TRUMP APPROVES FEDERAL FUNDING
Floodwaters have already swamped a large swath of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa along North America's longest river. A state of emergency has been declared in all or parts of the three Midwestern farm states.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday approved a disaster declaration for Nebraska, making federal funding available to affected individuals in nine counties in the state, as well as state, local and Native American tribal governments and some private nonprofit organizations.
More rain is in the forecast for the coming days, likely exacerbating the situation.
"This isn't over," said David Roth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center. He added that the Missouri River will see several more major flood crests over the next week.
The river's next major flood crest is forecast to hit St. Joseph, Missouri, at 6 a.m. CDT (1100 GMT) on Friday and a day later in Kansas City, Missouri, 55 miles (90 km) to the south, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Missouri empties into the Mississippi River, potentially threatening several Midwestern and Southern states, including Arkansas and Louisiana.
About 200 people voluntarily evacuated from the small city of Winthrop and Lewis and Clark Village in Buchanan County, Missouri, after an area levee was breached on Thursday, said local emergency management coordinator Bill Brinton.
"These people may get flooded two or three times over the next month or so," Brinton said.
Howard Geib, 54, owns a farm near the town of Craig in Holt County, Missouri, which ordered a mandatory evacuation on Wednesday. Geib said a levee near his farm broke over the weekend, and he saw at least 10 levees in the county that have broken.
"They broke," Geib said on Thursday. "There are 600-, 700-, 1,000-foot-long holes in the levees."
The deputy commander of the Army Corps' Omaha District, which encompasses the Missouri River watershed downstream to St. Joseph, said on Wednesday there had been more than 30 breaches across the public levee system in the region.
More than 2,400 homes and businesses in Nebraska have been destroyed or damaged, with 200 miles (320 km) of roads unusable and 11 bridges wiped out, according to authorities.
The state's governor, Pete Ricketts, thanked Trump for his federal disaster declaration as Nebraskans prepared to recover from what he called "the most widespread natural disaster in our state's history."
Ricketts estimated the floods caused at least $439 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, and $85 million to privately owned assets. He put flood damage for the state's agricultural sector at nearly $1 billion.
Mark Hamilton, a 59-year-old retired military officer, has lived in a mobile home in Arlington, Nebraska, for the last 23 years but was forced to flee when it flooded. He said he lost his house, motorcycle and truck at a total cost of about $150,000.
"We've had floods nine, 10 years ago but it was nothing like this," Hamilton said. "That entire trailer park needs to be removed now, nobody can live there."
(Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by G Crosse, Nick Carey and Jonathan Oatis)