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Nebraska's Flood-Damaged Highways Are An Immediate Concern

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's focus on one of the effects of flooding in the Midwest. More than 200 levees have been breached in four states as rivers flood. And Bill Kelly of member station NET radio in Lincoln, Neb., reports that damage to state highways is an immediate concern.

BILL KELLY, BYLINE: State Highway 39 crosses the Loup River south of Genoa, Neb. Diane Ziemba (ph) is emergency management coordinator for this region and explains it was a major north-south route before flood waters overwhelmed the dam upstream.

DENISE ZIEMBA: You are not able to even tell that there was once a highway that ran through there. It has made a new river for itself and used what used to be highway as the main channel.

KELLY: Aerial photographs show miles and miles of state highways looking much like the edge of a serrated bread knife. Fixing them falls to state transportation director Kyle Schneweis.

KYLE SCHNEWEIS: And you've seen the pictures. It is not good.

KELLY: Fourteen state highway bridges have also been destroyed.

SCHNEWEIS: We have secured three temporary bridges where we'll be able to drop those in places where we have the most priority.

KELLY: That's the short-term solution. Making highways at least functional may go from urgent to emergency for Fremont, Neb., 26,000 residents. A city with several access routes has become an island. Brian Newton is city administrator.

BRIAN NEWTON: I'm sure we're running low of many things, and it's very difficult to get to Fremont now.

KELLY: There's similar damage in Iowa and Missouri. Like Nebraska, a critical issue for the farm-based economy will be delivery of supplies for spring planting. Damage assessments could take weeks, and infrastructure repairs will be the largest part of any request for federal disaster relief. For NPR News, I'm Bill Kelly.

(SOUNDBITE OF YUSSEF DAYES AND ALFA MIST'S "BLACKED OUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.