PACIFIC JUNCTION, Iowa — Six generations of the Dashner family have farmed bottom ground along the Missouri River in Mills County, and for well over a century, the family has fought the river and the water that comes with it.
They have seen more than their share of floods, but Robert Dashner says this may be the worst.
“It’s 4 to 5 feet deep in my house,” says Dashner, who farms near here in Southwest Iowa. “My great-grandfather owned this house. It’s an old house, but you have to wonder if it’s going to be worth fixing it just to possibly go through another flood.”
Like hundreds of other families who call this river bottom home, Dashner evacuated late last week and into the weekend of March 16. Farms stretching from northern Mills County, Iowa, and well into northwest Missouri are covered with water.
Rapid snow melt and flooding in tributaries in eastern Nebraska were among the factors contributing to record river levels from Plattsmouth, Neb., and downstream.
Dashner, who farms south of the small town of Pacific Junction in southwest Iowa, says he got a call from his father, Chris, to start moving equipment March 14.
“He serves on the levee board and said we need to start moving equipment,” he says. “We did that, then started working on the house Friday morning.”
Dashner estimated March 21 that over 1,000 acres of his family’s crop ground and the family home were under water.
“It’s going to be a mess cleaning it up,” he says.
Pacific Junction was completely flooded, with water near roof level or higher on most homes.
The Des Moines Bureau reported Gov. Kim Reynolds toured western Iowa early last week and met with Vice President Mike Pence when he visited the area March 19.
“It’s hard to really describe the devastation that we witnessed. It looked like an ocean,” Reynolds said March 19 during a news conference at the Iowa Capitol. “It’s just unbelievable, and that’s people’s lives. Those are fifth-generation farms, those are businesses, communities.”
By designating nine more counties March 21, Gov. Kim Reynolds brings to 52 — more than half — the number of Iowa counties she has declared states of disaster. The declarations opens more state funding sources, and she will seek a federal declaration as well.
Joyce Flinn, administrator of the state’s emergency management division, described the flooding as “truly catastrophic” and worse than Iowa flooding in 2011.
Reynolds warned more flooding could be on the way as the spring thaw is only just beginning. But she also praised the spirit of many Iowans she has met as they hope to bounce back from the devastation.
“They’ve not lost their fight, and they don’t know how to give up,” Reynolds said. “They are and we are still in the fight.”
State assistance for Iowans in counties under a disaster declaration includes grants for home or car repairs, temporary housing costs and replacing clothes or food. Iowans can apply for assistance at the state’s human services department website at dhs.iowa.gov.
Dennis Lincoln, who farms west of Pacific Junction, evacuated his family’s Century Farm about 24 hours after Dashner headed for dry ground. He says many are comparing this flood to the historic flood of 1952.
“I was 9 years old in 1952, and my folks lived in a smaller house that was on flat ground, and it was flooded pretty badly,” Lincoln says. “In the early ’70s, they built a new house and made sure the main floor was 6 inches higher than the road that goes by the house.
“They never thought water would get into the main level of the house again, but we have 6 feet of water in it now.”
Lincoln said March 21 that water levels are dropping 2 to 3 inches per day.
David Lueth, who farms near Percival in Fremont County, says water levels are high at his home, but not quite as high as during the flood in 2011. He says the small community of Bartlett was completely flooded as levees fought a losing battle with the raging Missouri River.
Water also filled the southern part of Hamburg, near the Missouri border.
“It looks like photos you see from 1952,” Lueth said.
He estimated March 19 over a million bushels of corn and 900,000 bushels of soybeans have been lost, along with some livestock. Many bins gave way to water-swollen grain and collapsed.
“We’re going to have tens of millions of dollars in damages by the time this is done,” Lueth said.
Nebraska Farm Bureau president Steve Nelson estimates $400 million on crop losses because of crops that will be planted late — if at all — in his state. He also estimates up to $500 million in livestock losses.
He told the Omaha World-Herald, “I would not be surprised to see the lost agriculture numbers go over a billion dollars.”
Lueth and Dashner are optimistic they will get a crop planted this year, although they both said they are concerned about more potential flooding as the snow pack in the upper Missouri basin continues to melt.
“We hope to get something in but it may be all beans,” Dashner says. “We had dry fertilizer ordered, but fortunately we never put it on. I would guess anhydrous will be hard to get around here.”
He says when the cleanup eventually begins, everyone will be keeping one eye turned to the west.
“From what I hear, there are 30 or more areas with levee damage,” Dashner says. “Right now, we have no protection at all from the river.”