Highway 281 is seen damaged after a storm triggered historic flooding on March 16 in Niobrara, Neb. (Office of Governor Pete Ricketts/Reuters) (Handout/Reuters)

From the northern plains to the Midwest, vast areas remain underwater as a disastrous flood event continues, even days after last week’s powerhouse storm departed.

States of emergency remain in place for Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, where at least three deaths have occurred, have witnessed some of the worst flooding. As rivers have soared to record levels, levees have failed while bridges and thoroughfares have washed away. Numerous cities and towns are still engulfed in floodwaters.

Scenes of devastation are too numerous to fully capture, but available photographs and imagery offer a sense of the extreme nature of this event.

Waterways exploding in size


Satellite images before and after the flooding in parts of northeast Nebraska. (Sentinel 2/Mike Hollingshead)

Last week’s bomb cyclone was the most powerful spring storm in the central United States in decades. In a short amount of time, it unloaded one to three inches of rain, but that by itself didn’t cause the monumental flooding. There was also a ton of water packed within snow already on the ground.

As the rain poured down and this snow melted, a massive amount of water was released that ran off along the frozen turf into rivers and streams, rather than soaking into the soil. Those waterways then swelled to historic levels.

Scores of them are still at major flood stage.

The before-and-after scenes of eastern Nebraska’s Elkhorn River, from the Sentinel 2 satellite (above), shows the city of Scribner turned into an island, while several nearby communities are inundated.

The river seen passing by Uehling is actually just a small creek that ballooned in size.

Pools of high standing water are apparent all around the region. Similar scenes are evident up and down the Missouri and Platte rivers, shown below.

Dam and levee failures


An aerial view of Spencer Dam after a storm triggered historic flooding, near Bristow, Neb., on March 16. (Office of Governor Pete Ricketts/Reuters) (Handout/Reuters)

“It just looked like the end of the world coming,” Niobrara, Neb., Mayor Jody Stark told the Omaha World-Herald.

Stark was describing a wall of water more than a story tall rushing down the Niobrara River and into town when the upstream Spencer Dam was destroyed, unleashing a torrent of water loaded with huge chunks of ice. It all eventually surged into the Missouri River, where the weekend flooding was historic. Numerous levees and dikes failed, flooding nearby communities.

Unbelievable scenes on the ground

Pictures never truly do a disaster justice. But watching whitecaps atop normally dry prairies is something to behold, even on screen.

River floods can be gradual, with slow-rising water, but this is often not the case, and they can turn much more violent. In this instance, fast-moving water has scoured the landscape in sections of eastern Nebraska and surrounding states. In some places, rivers appear to have created new pathways.

Towns and cities underwater

Weather.com has put together a series of stunning before-and-after photos that are worth a look. One example is shown below.

It shows the small town of Bartlett, Iowa, situated near the Missouri River on the Nebraska border. It is completely engulfed by the flood. Scenes of such complete devastation are often reserved for major tornadoes in the region. But water can do serious damage, as well.

Numerous roads and highways damaged and destroyed

“Even in places where bridges remain, they’re impassable,” tweeted Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), while sharing a photo of a still-standing bridge covered in debris.

Dozens of roads throughout the region have been damaged and destroyed by flooding. It’s not just small roads impacted either: Several highways have seen bridges demolished or large sections wiped from the earth by floodwaters. Storm chaser Mike Hollingshead has been keeping track of these locations in eastern Nebraska.

Islands of the Plains

Parts of the Great Plains and Midwest are thought of as being flat as a pancake. While this is true in spots, small changes in elevation can make a big difference. In addition to towns and cities being cut off and temporarily turned into islands, even smaller ones around the region became temporary refuge for livestock.

Dramatic scenes of rescue

Much as in the flooding in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina or in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, emergency officials looked past personal risks to help those trapped by the rapidly rising waters.

Thousands of rescues have taken place, coordinated by multiple agencies. Chief among them are the Nebraska National Guard and Nebraska State Patrol. These folks have been instrumental in saving lives, as well as giving us a better picture of what’s happening in the region with their presence on social media.

Officials under siege

The National Weather Service is tasked with saving lives and property in the face of extreme weather. On Friday, the office in Valley, along the Platte River, had to be evacuated. Rising waters were threatening to encircle them — which later happened.

They weren’t alone. Offutt Air Force Base, the home of U.S. Strategic Command, has also faced floodwaters covering about a third of its facility. At least one runway was partially submerged there. A nuclear power plant on the Missouri River that was threatened by flooding was able to continue operating through the weekend.

Neighbors helping neighbors

These kinds of situations have a way of highlighting the best of communities. In addition to the tireless work of law enforcement, rescue personnel and emergency management, communities have come together to assist one another in enduring this trauma.

Not over yet

While many spots have seen water levels peak in this current episode, major rivers will only slowly recede in the hardest-hit areas this week.

Any additional rain could cause some concerns, although fortunately the forecast for the next week or so does not include a lot of precipitation.

As the spring rainy season is just getting underway and episodes of flooding have become more common in these regions, we’ll need to continue monitoring weather patterns.