Providing A Spectrum of Support: Remembering the Floods of 2019

Mar 6, 2024 | by Daisy Hutzell-Rodman

The multi-colored swirl moving across people’s TV screens and weather apps in mid-March 2019 may have looked like a beautiful scribble from a children’s coloring book — but the implication was far from delightful. Five years ago this month, The Salvation Army Western Division rose to the occasion to help thousands throughout the aftermath of a historic flood that left people without power, food, potable water and even housing.

According to the National Weather Service, in February and early March that year, unseasonably cold temperatures kept the ground frozen; then, on March 11, temperatures in eastern South Dakota, eastern Nebraska and western Iowa rose to an above-average high of 60 degrees, causing rapid snow melt that could not be absorbed by the frozen ground, along with heavy rains of 1-4 inches. Two days later, a blizzard hit western South Dakota and Nebraska, dumping as much as 18-20 inches in places. The result of all this precipitation was devastating: Water rapidly covered roads and entered homes, and one levee after another broke along rivers in portions of South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska as the water flowed downstream. Flooding was already prevalent when, on March 14, Spencer Dam in Nebraska broke in two places due to thick ice and flood waters too heavy for the dam to support.

The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services jumped to work, and by March 25, the organization had mobilized along a 300-mile-long corridor from Watertown, South Dakota, through the Omaha and Council Bluffs area to Fremont County, Iowa. Volunteers also served people west as far as Rapid City, S.D., and east into the middle of Iowa. On March 27, they arrived at Hamburg, Iowa (near the Missouri border), one of the hardest-hit areas. Included in the efforts were 12 canteens to distribute food, supply trucks to dispense flood-cleanup kits and other necessities, and Salvation Army representatives to provide direct aid.

Reaching the people was not easy. Roads, including portions of interstates 680 and 29, were covered in water and closed, causing detours and delays. The Salvation Army Western Division made it on-site despite all the challenges; over the course of its three-state operation, which ran from March through October 2019, the division’s disaster-relief teams served up the following to flood survivors:

  • Almost $3 million in direct financial assistance
  • 100,000-plus material items, such as flood-relief kits
  • 50,000-plus drinks
  • 44,000-plus meals

More than 24,000 volunteer hours enabled this work to happen. While the devastation brought many people heartache, The Salvation Army was able to bring hope, and help, to those who needed it most.

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