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The Antelope

Summer flooding disrupts community

The view of Josie Minor’s and Mia Grant’s front yard looking out into an empty cornfield in southwest Kearney. Pictured is their large dog, Thor, who is “swimming” in nearly a foot of water.

Braydon Conell
News Reporter

Living in Nebraska — home to Tornado Alley — the first natural disaster we may suspect is a tornado. Possibly even a blizzard in the depths of winter. However, for many people living in and visiting Kearney, the natural disaster of real concern was the flood that struck in July. 

On that Tuesday, July 9, Kearney and surrounding areas began experiencing large amounts of flooding due to local rivers breaching the flood stage. The prior week had been exceptionally wet and the ground was saturated. Beginning July 8 and going through the night, the local area received another thunderstorm that carried tornadoes and hail, as well as a tremendous amount of rain. 

By Tuesday morning, reports came in of property receiving six to eight inches of rain overnight, with some areas pushing ten inches. Coupled with ground saturation, this rainfall pushed the banks of local bodies of water including the Platte River, Kearney Canal, Turkey Creek Channel and Wood River past their flood stages. 

“We started seeing evidence of flooding on the morning of July 9,” said Eric Hellriegel, assistant city manager of Kearney. “The first records coming in were between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.”

The effects were not seen immediately, as customers were still getting coffee at Dunkin Donuts and individuals were arriving at work in the hospitality district. However, by 8:30 a.m., flood waters had begun to accumulate. 

The city was still thankful, granted that there were no flood related injuries or casualties.

“Dealing with that kind of recovering effort with swift water and the fact that we didn’t have any of those folks have injuries or casualties with the water was great,” said Hellriegel. “Actions taken by people in that 12-hour period were really critical.”

Many of those that did get out of the flood area needed a place to stay. In response, the 

community of Kearney quickly stepped in to help and assist those in need. 

“At 11:00, I got a text that said ‘Get rooms ready, may need space for up to 200,’” said LeAnn Jochum, associate director of operations for Resident Life. “Nothing was planned ahead. Vans and bus loads of flood victims began to arrive. Everyone from a family of five from California to displaced Kearney families that could not get to their homes.” 

UNK helped a total of 336 people that had been displaced and were looking for a space to stay until they could return to their homes or hotel rooms.

“We served as an emergency shelter,” said Jochum. “When you serve as an emergency shelter, you address safety first. We accepted everyone – two or four legged. We had families with pets and babies, both of which we are not typically equipped to handle”

Some of those who were grateful for the assistance provided by the community were students staying in Kearney outside of the academic year. Josie Minor, a senior criminal justice major from Lincoln, and Mia Grant, a political science major from Columbus, were renting a house southwest of the new Kearney High School at the time.

“We woke up around 7 a.m. and our yard and road were already covered in over a foot of water,” said Minor.  

The pair were not told to evacuate but could request a water rescue from the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Department. 

“If we didn’t evacuate, we would have been trapped at the house for probably a week,” said Grant. “It was nice to know there was somewhere to go because otherwise we would have been trapped and not been able to get to work.”

The two evacuated their home, and went to stay at the makeshift emergency shelter at UNK. 

“We were very welcomed at UNK. They let us bring our dog and even offered animal products like food and treats,” said Minor. “I was happy that UNK was so willing and welcoming to offer what they had available.”

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