First flooding response crews ready to hit the ground

David Burke


Members of Fremont First United Methodist Church join others from their community to fill sand bags as waters rose. The city has become a temporary island after waters swallowed all roads leading in and out of town. Photo by Rev. Bill Gepford

As damage assessment from ongoing flooding begins throughout Nebraska, the disaster response coordinator for the Great Plains Conference is waiting for government approval before volunteers can begin work.

“The state of Nebraska requested last night that we do not come until each county emergency manager signs off with approval that volunteers can enter,” the Rev. Hollie Tapley wrote in an email to conference staff Monday morning.

She did receive approval for herself and early response teams to come to Valley County, Nebraska, in the central part of the state, beginning Tuesday.

Tapley is being cautious since the forecast is for another inch of rain and/or snow on Tuesday night, and more precipitation is forecast for next weekend.

“My pondering, and prayerful consideration taking place, is do we still go up, possibly work Wednesday and Thursday, with the chance of more water rising from the weekend storms,” Tapley wrote. “I know we are ready to help, yet I also know that for safety and good measures, we need things dry as much as possible.”

The Rev. Lance Clay, Prairie Rivers District superintendent, said the St. Edward UMC is housing clothing, food and cleaning supplies for distribution, as well as feeding volunteers and providing paper goods to the local nursing home. A counselor is coming in later this week and will work from the church to help people with crises.

“This is pain day … people are finding out the extent of damage to homes. Homes being declared condemned will be announced through the week as disaster relief agencies get to them,” Clay wrote to conference staff Monday. “However, the amount of people, money and help flowing in is astounding. … (St. Edward pastor) Vern Olson is working diligently … this congregation and community is amazing.”
In his report from central Nebraska, Clay wrote:
  • Most of the damage in Genoa and Monroe is on the south side of towns, along the canals and river.
  • U.S. Highway 81 has opened one lane only south of Columbus with a pilot car.
  • Spencer and Lynch are without water, but groups in Lincoln have provided 3,600 pounds of food and bedding, and the American Red Cross is trying to get temporary showers
  • Archer Zion UMC in Central City has begun sandbagging around its building
In Fremont, where flooding has turned the city into an island, the Rev. Bill Gepford of Fremont First UMC and his congregation helped fill sandbags to keep more of the flooding at bay.
“I’ve had numerous pastors from less-impacted areas reach out and ask what we need,” Gepford posted on Facebook over the weekend. “I anticipate that we will be working closely with our conference’s disaster relief team in the weeks, months, and possibly even years ahead. It looks like there will be a number of trainings, and we will rebuild. But for those of you who have lost, or might lose, your homes to the floods — may you remember the love of your neighbors, and may it provide you some small measure of hope in the midst of this.”

The towns of Schuyler and Hooper also have been cut off by floodwaters. In a report from the Missouri River District, Superintendent Chad Anglemyer said as of Monday afternoon all of the members of the church in Schuyler have been evacuated from their homes in endangered areas. Several people had been rescued by helicopter. The church building itself was in no danger Monday. The city of Hooper was not in danger, but the area surrounding the town is flooded, with people unable to travel in or out. Anglemyer said he had talked to local church pastors in the Omaha area, and they indicated their congregations would be willing to help.

As of Monday night, 65 of Nebraska's 93 counties had declared some kind of emergency related to the flooding.
To assist with relief efforts, additional Early Response Training classes have been scheduled: Tapley said over the weekend that relief work could take years.
“Your Disaster Response Ministry is committed to the long haul, and we will be active until the end,” Tapley said. 
Tapley said she wanted to be made aware of churches that are willing to house and/or feed volunteers. Contact her at Churches are urged not to self-deploy to flood zones out of a concern for their safety and out of respect for first responders attempting to rescue people and animals. The conference will announce areas where volunteers are needed on a special flood-related page on its website at

Bishop Saenz has asked churches to consider taking up special offerings for the conference disaster response fund, which will provide materials for cleanup and the beginning of recovery. Though the conference heavily supports and endorses the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), donations to conference’s fund allow for money to be quickly dispersed to people in need and to the overall relief effort. The account number is # 975/420101. 
The storms have forced changes in the Great Plains Conference schedule. The planned regional gatherings March 23 in Columbus and March 24 in Omaha have been postponed. Instead of attending these events, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. has asked that United Methodists seek ways to help neighbors coping with this devastating flooding event. Also, the Guest Readiness workshop planned for March 23 in Kearney, Nebraska, has been cancelled. The March 25 workshop in Salina, Kansas is still scheduled.

Here’s a roundup of the flooding and recovery news from across Nebraska:
  • In Lincoln, residents now face a mandatory water reduction as flooding threatens the city’s wellfields. News from the Lincoln Journal Star.
  • Fremont’s state senator praises the churches, businesses, nonprofits and city officials dealing with the challenge of being cut off from the rest of the state because of flooded highways. Sen. Lynne Walz also told colleagues some first responders have been working for 78 to 92 hours, “non-stop without relief.” News from the Fremont Tribune.
  • A Columbus Telegram editorial praises its residents for working together to help when floods raise the Loup and Platte rivers. Read the editorial.
  • As flood waters begin to go down in Norfolk, officials begin to assess the city’s levee system. Updates from the Norfolk Daily News.
  • In Grand Island, the Wood River is still above flood stage, but is receding. News from the Grand Island Independent.
  • Gibbon has begun its recovery efforts, after the city made 55 water rescues during the past week. News from the Kearney Hub.
Contact David Burke, content specialist, at

Related Videos