‘It was a lost cause’: Air Force gives up fight to stop water at Offutt; one-third of base is flooded

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Even the U.S. Air Force couldn’t stop the Mighty Missouri River from flooding Offutt Air Force Base.

Between Saturday night and early Sunday, the 55th Wing called off a 30-hour, round-the-clock sandbagging effort because the floodwaters were rising too fast.

“It was a lost cause. We gave up,” said Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake, a 55th Wing spokeswoman.

By Sunday morning, one-third of the base was underwater, she said. About 60 structures have been damaged, mostly on the south end of the base.

Of the base’s 200 buildings, 30 are completely inundated with as much as 8 feet of water, including the 55th Wing headquarters building, the E-4B Nightwatch hangar and the Bennie Davis Maintenance Facility. About 3,000 feet of the base’s 11,700-foot runway are submerged.

The 55th Wing managed to fly out nine of the 33 reconnaissance jets based there Saturday evening, according to 55th Wing Commander Col. Michael Manion’s official Facebook post. Some were flown to the Lincoln Airport, where the Nebraska Air National Guard has a base.

Five planes were still parked on the northwest taxiway and the apron Sunday morning. Blake said it’s not clear yet when or whether they’ll be moved.

At least 1,600 workers at the base have been relocated to other buildings on the base. For now, the 55th Wing is operating out of the Dougherty Conference Center, near the Patriot Club, the former officers’ club, Blake said. Others will be working out of the cavernous Building D, the former Martin Bomber Plant built just before World War II.

The headquarters of U.S. Strategic Command, located on a hill, has not suffered any flooding. Many of its senior leaders are participating in a worldwide military exercise called Global Lightning, which began Wednesday, though the command has reduced its force to “minimum manning” levels. StratCom’s new $1.3 billion headquarters also has suffered no damage.

The base’s commissary, shopping exchange, chapel, and all base housing is out of the flood zone, and no on-base residents have been evacuated, Blake said.

“Half the base is in crisis mode, and half the base everything is normal,” she said.

Sandbagging and other defensive efforts began at noon Saturday, said Lt. Col. Vance Goodfellow, deputy commander of the 55th Wing’s Mission Support Group.

“It was a 24/7 effort,” he said.

He said floodwaters first breached the base’s eastern fence, about one mile from the river, at 9 a.m. Saturday. By late afternoon, water was pouring up out of storm and sewage drains and had reached critical buildings south of the single runway, a half-mile from the eastern boundary.

“The water came in and overtook us.”

Stay with Omaha.com for more on this developing story.