Central Nebraska to be recovering for a long time

Monday, January 8, 2007

As more of us visit the Holdrege and Kearney area, or at least see photos or video of the area, the question becomes not why the lines went down there, but "why didn't they all go down?"

And we should again be grateful the temperatures were such that the moisture that did fall over Southwest Nebraska was in the form of snow, instead of the inches of ice that coated everything to the northwest of us.

Bumping over icy streets and chiseling out the few remaining pathways that are not clear is nothing compared to going without electricity for days on end.

And, a look at the crumpled structures that supported a major power line south of Kearney make it clear it will be a long time before things return to normal. It's clear why the nearby NTV television studios were damaged by falling ice, as well as how fortunate they were that the tower itself was undamaged.

And while it's relatively easy to replace simple wooden poles, the massive metal structures that were destroyed won't be that easy to restore. Officials are talking about assembling the new ones at a staging area, then airlifting them to the final site with huge helicopters.

It's a good thing, therefore, that President Bush signed a major disaster declaration for Nebraska on Sunday night, clearing the way for federal money to help the state recover from the storms.

"This is the worst disaster that utilities in Nebraska have sustained, probably in their lifetime," said Beth Boesch, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Public Power District.

She pointed out that the damages won't officially be tallied for a few more days, but could total $100 million or more.

That's a lot of money for a state of 1.7 million people. And, the damage totals cover just infrastructure, not the cost to our economy in lost work time, slowed sales and deliveries, and other costs.

It took until Saturday night to restore some sort of centralized power to every community, but officials were worried about weather forecasts predicting high winds.

And, the forecast calls for snow, freezing rain or sleet later this week, with a chance of snow through the weekend.

Clearly, Central Nebraska's going to be in the recovery mode for a long time. We're thankful for the declaration of the major disaster, but all of us will be feeling the effects of the New Year's ice storm for a long time.

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