Omaha World-Herald: Sherman County farmer-cattleman Richard Panowicz knows nothing will ever be the same after this month’s winter cyclone triggered a flood on the Middle Loup River less than a half-mile from his back door.
The river has changed course.
The hay and silage to feed his cattle are soaked after sitting in 3 to 4 feet of water.
Sand now covers much of the pastureland he uses to graze his herd of commercial Angus cows and purebred Charolaise bulls.
And 40 of his recently born calves died in the flood.
“I’ll probably sell the (remaining) cows and calves and get out of the cattle business,” said Panowicz, 65. “I’ve been around cows since the early 1970s.”
That’s when he milked cows on a family farm near Poole in Buffalo County. His wife, Loraine, said they have lived at their farm east of the Middle Loup and about halfway between Loup City and Rockville for 31 years.
“The river just exploded on us,” she said about this month’s flood.
Richard Panowicz said river water had come across the meadow toward their [farm over] the years, “but nothing to this extent.”
According to the National Weather Service, the Middle Loup flood stage at Rockville is 8.5 feet and the river was at 10.85 feet in the late afternoon of March 13.
Panowicz has 190 cows, and calving season is approximately half done. He had spent many nighttime hours during the first 20 to 30 bitter cold days of calving season checking on pregnant cows and making sure newborn calves were dry and warm. “Everybody did,” Panowicz said. “You had to be out there. You had about a half-hour to get them (wet newborns) in or they would have been dead.”
Of the first 60-plus calves born, 20 are left. He has found the carcass of one cow.
One of his half-dozen Charolaise bulls is missing. “There’s one of them that floated away and we can’t find him,” Panowicz said.
He described how quickly a rising river turned into a deadly river. “Within 15 minutes it was devastation,” Panowicz said, with water, ice and debris exploding from the river with nothing to stop it.
He described some ice chunks as 3 feet thick and the size of an extended-cab pickup.
Panowicz said a lot of the dead calves he’s picked up have had broken legs. Many of the carcasses were found by neighbors.
On one leased school property along the river, he had a mile of new fence that now is mostly gone. “There is no insurance that will cover that stuff,” Panowicz said.
When asked about having feed for his remaining herd, he said he tore apart hay bales that his cattle can use for bedding or eat if they want. Otherwise, the bales will turn into a “pile of mold.”
“A lot of pasture is just ruined for decades and decades,” Panowicz said. “It’s not like washing a ditch out. It’s covered in sand, 4 to 5 feet deep in places.”
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The fields where he usually has 400 to 500 acres of corn and 300 acres of alfalfa and prairie hay remain soggy.
“The Middle Loup Valley, once it gets wet it takes a long time to dry out,” Panowicz said, which will make spring planting a “son of a gun.”
His next post-flood step is yet to be determined. “We have not really come up with a plan. I have to talk to my wife and financial advisers,” he said.
Panowicz added that one thing is certain: It’s going to take “months or years to recover from this one.”
The only time he got a catch in his voice was when he was asked if he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “We do a lot of both,” he replied. “There’s just nothing you can do about it.”
“This is what you call ground zero,” he said.
The flood followed a devastating snowstorm that also devastated other parts of the state and killed cattle.
“While appearing to the children of men as a great physician who can heal all their maladies, he will bring disease and disaster, until populous cities are reduced to ruin and desolation. Even now he is at work. In accidents and calamities by sea and by land, in great conflagrations, in fierce tornadoes and terrific hailstorms, in tempests, floods, cyclones, tidal waves, and earthquakes, in every place and in a thousand forms, Satan is exercising his power. . . . These visitations are to become more and more frequent and disastrous. Destruction will be upon both man and beast.” The Great Controversy, page 589.