Nebraskans Brace for Flooding

Volunteers have built this sandbag barrier by the railroad tracks in Big Springs, Neb., hoping to keep water out of town. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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September 18, 2013 - 4:47pm

As floodwaters from Colorado roll downstream into Nebraska, Nebraskans are bracing for the impact.


In Big Springs, Neb., near the Colorado border, the scritch-thwump sound of people scooping sand and dumping it into sandbags goes on, night and day. Village clerk and high school secretary Susan McGreer said it’s for a good cause.

“They’ve been sandbagging – filling sandbags for two days now. And they’ve got it all shored up underneath the two openings under the railroad tracks, and under the one down here on the east end of town, which is the lowest end, and then up by the elevator,” McGreer said. In 1965, floodwaters came through and got to the elevator, she said, adding townspeople are hoping to keep the water away this time.

(Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Local students helped with sandbagging efforts this week in Big Springs, Neb. with the hopes of protecting the town from potential flooding.
 

Up and down the South Platte River, people like McGreer and Cal Schulz, who lives thirty miles farther east near Roscoe, remember previous floods. “’Sixty five was the big flood, and ’95, and there was one in ’35 – I heard about that from my dad,” Schulz said, adding 1965 was the biggest.

But there’s something different this time. Michael Moritz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hastings, Neb., said the amount of rain that fell in Colorado is way off the charts. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into record-breaking floods in Nebraska.

“Essentially this was a one-in-one-thousand-year rain event in parts of Colorado,” Moritz said. “In Nebraska, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a one-in-one-thousand-year flood event. Just because it was that bad in Colorado doesn’t mean it’s like that here.”

Still, Moritz said the situation is unique. “We haven’t had any events like this that I know of.  This is some uncharted territory.”

That uncertainty is reflected upstream in Julesburg, Colo., 12 miles from Big Springs, where the waters of the South Platte River have expanded to nearly half a mile across. As of Wednesday afternoon, they were lapping at the foot of that city’s sandbagged sewage treatment plant.

Julesburg town manager Allen Coyne said the plant was working fine at that level of flooding. But he acknowledged he didn’t know how much deeper the water would get. “We don’t know yet. Nobody knows. This is a guessing game – our crystal balls are not real good on this,” Coyne said.

The National Weather Service said the flooding has now crested in Julesburg. Officials now project record flooding near Roscoe Thursday, and near-record flooding in North Platte Friday. Moritz predicts flooding will continue as far east as Grand Island through the next week to 10 days.

Meanwhile, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency warns flood waters may contain debris such as trees, animal carcasses, bacteria, raw sewage and other harmful material.

The Nebraska Department of Roads is also monitoring 10 state bridges that could be affected as the water moves through the area.

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