The flooding that continues to cause damage across the Midwest has crippled part of a critical Air Force base in Nebraska, where the military would coordinate a response to a nuclear attack.
One-third of Offutt Air Force Base is under water and about 60 structures there have been flooded, according to Ryan Hansen, spokesman for the Air Force’s 55th Wing. Offutt’s only runway is partially submerged.
The base is just south of Omaha and adjacent to the Missouri River, which has been five feet over flood stage since Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
Offutt hosts the U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for air defense and the nuclear arsenal. President George W. Bush flew to the base to coordinate the initial response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Strategic Command buildings have not been flooded, since they are on a hill and the underground facilities have flood control systems, said Maj. Meghan Liemburg-Archer, a Strategic Command spokeswoman. The Strategic Command called for only “mission essential personnel" to report for duty, but Liemburg-Archer said flooded roads and parking lots were the reason for the reduced staffing. The command is continuing an exercise with U.S. forces in Europe that started March 13.
“We haven’t even had a moment of interruption as far as our nuclear command and control mission,” Liemburg-Archer said. “There has not been a single blip.”
The base is also home to the E-4B, which is used as an airborne command center in case of a nuclear war or other national disaster. Nine planes, including one E-4B, were flown off the base, while remaining aircraft were moved to higher ground on the base.
Airmen and base personnel began working around the clock Friday to fill 235,000 sandbags and prepare 460 flood barriers. About 1,600 military personnel were relocated to different buildings to continue operations during the flooding. The base ended the sandbagging effort Sunday morning.
Col. Michael Manion, commander of the 55th Wing, reported “minimal water recession” Monday morning. Manion noted that the Army Corps of Engineers expected the water to recede Thursday.
Offutt is just one of several military bases that have been damaged by extreme weather in the last few months.
Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, Fla., was devastated by Hurricane Michael in October. Every structure on the base was damaged. The Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune suffered $3.6 billion worth of damage when Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in September.
While the impact to Offutt Air Force Base is significant, it is only part of the widespread destruction in the region.
“We’ll press on and we’ll make the mission happen, but there are local communities around here that are probably damaged beyond repair,” Hansen said. “Our hearts go out to them.”