Taxpayers affected by damaging winds, flooding may get some relief

Taxpayers affected by damaging winds, flooding may get some relief
Carcasses of some of the 40 calves that Rockville farmer-cattleman Richard Panowicz lost in last week’s Middle Loup River flood are collected Friday in a bucket attachment on a tractor. Panowicz is also contending with pastures covered in sand.

Tax relief is available to some of those affected by the historic storm and flooding that occurred this month.

So far, the help is tied to Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington Counties. Other counties may be added as the disaster declaration process continues.

The IRS will allow taxpayers to retroactively apply this month’s losses to last year’s income, or save the losses for use against 2019 income, according to a statement issued Sunday by the IRS.

Additionally, certain IRS deadlines have been extended to July 31.

With some caveats, the following deadlines have been extended to July 31:

• Individual income tax returns and payments normally due on April 15.

• Quarterly estimated income tax payments due on April 15 and June 17.

• IRA payments.

FEMA to start inspections of flood damage for federal disaster aid

FEMA this week will begin sending in teams to help Nebraskans negotiate the maze of requirements needed to register for federal disaster assistance.

The Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams will work in counties that have been designated as federal disaster areas.

So far, nine Nebraska counties have been designated for individual disaster relief by President Trump: Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington. Additional counties may be added as the disaster declaration process continues.

The Federal and Nebraska Emergency Management Agencies are working together to assess damage.

FEMA workers can help people resolve immediate problems, address emerging needs and connect with local resources.

People can get federal assistance with temporary repairs, short-term living expenses and help with major problems not covered by other programs.

All FEMA personnel have federal photo identification and clothing. Private companies working for FEMA also will have photo identification.

Officials encourage people to insist on identification and to contact local law enforcement if they have concerns about the legitimacy of individual.

To register for aid:

  • Online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
  • By phone using FEMA’s toll-free registration line, 800-621-3362.
  • If you have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY call 800-462-7585; or use 711 or Video Relay Service to call 1-800-621-3362.

‘The river just exploded on us’: Nebraska farmer not sure if he can rebound after losing 40 calves

ROCKVILLE, Neb. — Sherman County farmer-cattleman Richard Panowicz knows nothing will ever be the same after last week’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 pasture land he uses to graze his herd of commercial Angus cows and purebred Charolais 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 last week’s flood.

Richard Panowicz said river water had come across the meadow toward their house during the years, “but nothing to this extent.”

Now, the river has changed course and deposited sand on the land covered by floodwater.

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 Charolais 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 a week ago today.

“Within 15 minutes (from 4:30-4:45 p.m.) 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 school leased-land property along the river, he had a mile of new fence that now is mostly gone. “I never had a cow against it,” Panowicz said. “There is no insurance that will cover that stuff.”

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.”

The fields where he usually has 400-500 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 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.”

One reason Panowicz wanted to tell his story is so people who aren’t agriculture producers better understand the places and people who produce their steaks. “This is what you call ground zero,” he said.

Cattle ‘just floated away:’ Nebraska farmer describes devastation of watching the water rise

LOUP CITY, Neb. — In the 47 years that Mike Kaminski’s dad, Darrell, has lived on the family’s farm along the west side of the Middle Loup River south of Loup City, an area of sandy hills 6 to 8 feet high along the river never had flooded.

Not when heavy, wet snow melted.

Not when 5 to 6 inches of rain fell.

Not until earlier this month.

That’s when the combination of melting snow, 2 inches of rain and still-frozen ground produced runoff that caused the river to roar out of its banks, carrying away huge chunks of ice, trees and 80 head — 40 cow-calf pairs — of Mike Kaminski’s cattle.

“We would have never put our cows there if the water had ever been there in 47 years,” he said.

For all those years, it was a safe, dry place with some higher ground that was a perfect site for cows and their older calves when they were ready to be moved from the calving area near his house.

“The volume (of rain) was not the issue,” Kaminski said about last week’s devastation. “It was the timing … It was that the ground was frozen.”

He and his wife, Whitney, have built their herd of 300-plus cows during the past 10 years. They have a mix of Red Angus, Black Angus and Hereford genetics that produce red- and black-baldy (white face) calves.

They already constantly checking cows and calves during the wet, brutally cold early calving season that can be deadly to wet newborns that can’t be warmed and dried quickly.

Despite those conditions, said they had 102 percent of a calf crop for the first half of the season. All calves survived, including a set of twins.

His son, Conrad, 10, helped find newborns that were put into the pickup and immediately taken to warm, heated sheds. Then, father and son, would go get the cows.

Kaminski said that at 3 a.m. on March 13 there was no water threatening the cows and calves in the sandy hills area. By 6 a.m., some cattle were isolated by the water, so they removed six cow-calf pairs that they could reach.

“We just watched the water rise,” he said.

Ice from the Middle Loup came in around 3 p.m. and his cows started jumping into the water to get away from the large floating chunks. “And they just floated away” with the calves in 4 to 5 feet of water, Kaminski said.

A few of the 40 calves were a couple of weeks old, but most were 30 days old. They were among the 150 calves born during the first half of calving season.

Kaminski said there were other cattle with different owners in the same area by the river that day that met the same fate.

Other Kaminski cows ready to have calves were in large corrals by the house, which is a quarter-mile from the river.

As calving season continues, there is a new issue. “Now we’re fighting mud,” Kaminski said. “Pushing mud out.”

He said cows and newborn calves are “dry bedded” in barns for at least the first 12 hours so the babies can nurse.

So where will they go next?

“That’s our dilemma,” Kaminski said, until there will be some sort of pasture available. For now, they are being consolidated in areas where there is not as much mud and corn stover is laid out as bedding.

Kaminski added that they’ve saved every calf born since the storm.

Other flood-related problems include erosion. He said approximately 5 acres of cropland was lost in a field where the soil dropped into the river.

While many Nebraska farmers are worried about how long it will take to see fields dry enough for spring planting, Kaminski said he must haul dirt to fill 3- to 4-foot gullies the river carved in some of his fields and also haul away trees left behind by the flood.

“Clean up will take awhile,” he said. “We have to fix before we can even think about wet fields.”

And then there’s the task of replacing all of the fencing. “That will be a summer project,” Kaminski said. “I told my wife that it probably will be June or July until we do something fun.”

It’s too early to assess the economic damage. “We’re cognizant of the fact that our balance sheets have changed. We don’t know the full effect yet,” he said.

When asked how his family is doing emotionally, Kaminski replied, “I think OK … We have a good support system. The neighbors have been great.”

The help most needed must come from the source of the destruction — Mother Nature.

“We just need about a two-week break with sunshine and a breeze,” he said in a phone interview as light rain fell Tuesday. “There’s nothing we can do.”

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