But Offutt still has a long, hard road ahead — and it’s anybody’s guess how long the recovery effort will take.
Ryan Hansen, spokesman for the 55th Wing, said on Thursday the last waters flooding the 2-mile-long flightline at Offutt completely receded Wednesday. During the worst of the flooding, about 3,000 feet of the flightline’s east end was underwater.
Also on Wednesday, Hansen said civil engineers and bioenvironmental engineers made their way into the first of 30 flooded buildings — the Bennie L. Davis Maintenance Facility, the main hub of maintenance operations for the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft at the base.
The floodwaters — which were as high as 8 feet at the hardest-hit portions of the base — have gone down a foot or two in places, Hansen said.
Offutt’s flightline remains closed, however. Local civil engineers, as well as experts brought in from higher headquarters, are starting to look at the runway to make sure it is structurally sound, Hansen said. Engineers want to ensure water didn’t get under the flightline and cause hidden damage to its foundation, which could lead to problems such as dangerous sinkholes.
Hansen said he hopes that before long, the flightline will again be open and aircraft can start to return. But he could not estimate when that might be. Five Rivet Joints flew to MacDill Air Force Base in Florida as the waters poured in, and three more flew to nearby Lincoln Air National Guard Base. Another airplane, an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center that belongs to Global Strike Command, also evacuated the base.
But waters have not entirely receded from the Davis maintenance facility, Hansen said, and as of Wednesday afternoon, a foot or two of water remained. The engineers are methodically working their way through the building to make sure it’s safe, before they can allow the people who work there to go back in and retrieve any salvageable work and personal items.
“It’s a good sign for sure” that engineers could re-enter the Davis building. “Every day we don’t get rain, and there’s no more water coming from the north, [the water] will continue to go down."
Hansen said the Offutt community has pulled together in the wake of the disaster. About 1,300 personnel who previously worked in the now-flooded buildings are now working at other facilities around base, and people have been “bending over backwards” to support them as they get back on their feet.
The base said in a Wednesday release that its Airman and Family Readiness Center will set up an Emergency Family Assistance Center on Thursday and Friday to help about 20 Offutt personnel and their families, who were displaced from their flooded homes in the surrounding area.
Offutt’s RC-135s are continuing to train and generate sorties from their temporary home at the Lincoln base, Hansen said. One Rivet Joint conducted a training sortie Wednesday, and on its way back to Lincoln, flew over Offutt “to show how resilient we are,” Hansen said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.