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Nebraska Flooding Threatens Livelihood Of Cattle Farmers


A state of emergency declared in Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska - across the Midwest, people are scrambling for higher ground. Last week's bomb cyclone and heavy rain set the stage for historic flooding. In Nebraska alone, the Farm Bureau says losses could reach a billion dollars. Among those hit is Anthony Ruzicka. He's a cattle farmer in northeastern Nebraska.

ANTHONY RUZICKA: I'm the fifth generation on the farm. My nephew will be the sixth generation if he were to choose to stay there if our farm is even going to be there. Right now I have my doubts. I hope it is. I hope we can do - we're going to try.

CHANG: The Niobrara River runs about a half mile from that fifth-generation farm.

RUZICKA: An old farm but the cleanest farm you've ever seen in your life. If I'm - I hate to put myself down, but we're kind of neat freaks. If there was a water bottle laying on our yard, I would've cleaned it. In the summertime, I Weedeated (ph) around every post, every building. There would've been no weeds because I - would've drove me crazy.


Fast-forward to last week and those heavy rains. Near the Ruzickas, the river still full of ice started to rise. Anthony Ruzicka told me there is a dam 40 miles or so upstream. And around 6 last Thursday morning, he got a call saying, get up - dam is about to break.

RUZICKA: We started - well, you don't really know what to do. When you get something like that, you don't know if water's going to be there in five minutes or two minutes or an hour or whatever. You don't - you have no clue. So you - the first thing you start doing is panicking.

KELLY: Ruzicka worked to move everything he could to higher ground. Neighbors helped. After two hours, the waters arrived.

RUZICKA: Well, everything that was left there is completely gone. Our cows - I don't know how many cows were lost. I don't know how many calves were lost. All my records got destroyed in water. The house that was built in 1907 or 1906, I believe, it's demolished.

KELLY: Oh, I'm so sorry.

RUZICKA: Yeah, it's just - we're so devastated right now. It's terrible. I'm shaken so bad. One minute, I'm crying. And the next minute, I'm angry. I'm shaken. I can't think straight. It's bad.

KELLY: I'm so sorry. Is your family all OK?

RUZICKA: We are all alive. Without question, that's the most important thing in the world. We are all alive. But I feel like - I've aged 20 years in the last week - is what I feel like. I don't think I - maybe I had enough empathy towards anybody who had a disaster, but I sure do now. I sure do now because this is - it's bad. It's just - it's beyond bad. Nobody should ever have to go through something like that. But unfortunately, I guess, it happens.

KELLY: Mr. Ruzicka, have you been able to go back? Have you seen all of this firsthand?

RUZICKA: We have been cleaning. Ever since the water receded, we have been cleaning with help of neighbors.

KELLY: So the water has receded now.

RUZICKA: Oh, yes, the water has receded, but I describe it as standing in the middle of a glacier. That's what it looks like. There's ice cakes 15-feet high. Some of these ice cakes are the size of houses. We have people that I know and people that I don't know that are walking around, digging tools, shop tools, household items - they're digging them out of the mud. These people are covered in mud from head to toe. And I don't know how to thank them. I don't know how - I don't know - even know how to begin to thank them.

KELLY: I mean, I hear you saying you are literally in the digging-out phase right now.

RUZICKA: Yeah, we are. We're in the digging-out stage. And I think now it's try to figure out, what do you do?

KELLY: Yeah.

RUZICKA: I mean, obviously financially it's bad.

KELLY: Do you know - I know it's too early to have even thought about this, but do you know whether insurance will help cover some of it?

RUZICKA: No because we didn't have flood insurance. And I don't think that you - I don't even know how that would work. The house was 1906. It's never had a drop of water in it, ever.

KELLY: So you've never been flooded before.

RUZICKA: We've had water close to the house but never in the house. Not even - nothing to this extent.

KELLY: Well, Anthony Ruzicka, thank you for speaking with me. I'm so sorry. We'll be thinking of you and wishing you luck.

RUZICKA: Thank you very much. And just - Nebraska strong is an understatement. Nebraska amazing would be what I'd say, Nebraska amazing. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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