Sitting water, infrastructure damage force delay in response to Columbus area

Todd Seifert

3/29/2019

Continued high-water levels in the area of Columbus, Nebraska, have stymied much of the effort by Great Plains Conference early response teams (ERT) efforts to help homeowners begin the recovery after a massive flood.

In many cases, access to homes is still cut off because of standing water or because driveways and property was washed away, said the Rev. Hollie Tapley, the conference’s disaster response coordinator. In many cases, it’s not even possible to access homes via ATVs or by hiking onto a property.

Damage to pavement and infrastructure prevents work crews from assisting with disaster cleanup in the area of Columbus, Nebraska. Photo by Hollie Tapley

“I hate it. It’s tearing my heart out,” she said through tears. “But we just can’t do anything right now.”

As a result, disaster response efforts will be put on hold for a week to as much as a month before Great Plains ERTs return.

“In one area, there are five houses in a row, and you can’t get to them,” Tapley said. “It’s like a river running in front of them. You can see where the driveway starts and then you don’t see anything else for a hundred feet or more but water.

“We are trying our darnedest, but it’s not accessible to these individuals at this point” she continued. “We’ll have to let the driveways dry and settle.”

Tapley said the pooled water, along with more storms predicted over the next few days, mean it could be awhile before homes can be safely assessed and before ERTs will be able to do their work.

The National Weather Service forecast predicts as much as 3 inches of new snow to accumulate by Saturday morning in the Columbus area. Another chance of rain is in the forecast for Monday night.

“I’ll be checking in with people regularly,” Tapley said. “Once we get enough work to bring in a team, we’ll call them in and get to work mucking out the houses.”

Tapley said circumstances warranted a similar response after floods damaged homes in the Wichita suburb of Mulvane in 2016.

“We had homes in Mulvane that still had water in their living areas even 10 months out, just because the water table was still so high. Once water was out of their basements, we went back in, tore everything out, treated the mold and then even built some walls.”

In Fremont, Nebraska, conference ERT members found that crews from other benevolent organizations had bypassed the state’s protocol for registering to assist in cleanup efforts and had gone in early to areas assigned to the Great Plains. Tapley said she was thankful that people impacted by flooding received assistance but that the protocol is meant to divide the work so as many people can be helped as possible. At least in this case, the state’s protocol didn’t work as planned.

Disaster response crews from the Southern Baptist denomination encountered similar situations, Tapley said.

Regardless, Tapley said, the Great Plains Conference disaster response teams will be back to help people once it is possible to do so.

“My thinking is that we’re just hitting road block after road block,” Tapley said. “And to serve these people the way our disaster response teams can and with what these folks will need, we will wait awhile. Because of the delay, we will be diligent in helping them quickly in the recovery phase by putting in subfloors, hanging drywall and furnishing other materials.”
 

Road Repairs

In roads-related news, the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) is currently working on repairs to flood-damaged roads and bridges on various emergency projects in central Nebraska. These include:
  • Highway 14 near Fullerton — Work includes repair to the roadway to restore immediate connectivity. Weather depending, work is anticipated to conclude north of Fullerton by April 10.  The remaining portion south of Fullerton is anticipated to be completed by April 17.
  • Highway 22 — The road between Highway 281 and Genoa will remain closed until repairs are completed north of Fullerton to Highway 14.  
  • Highway 39 — Work includes repairing roadways washed out by the flood.  NDOT is in the process of designing a bridge to replace the damaged bridge south of the Loop River. Once design work has been completed, a new contract for the bridge will be let for construction. Highway 39 between Highway 30 and the junction of Highways 39 and 22 will remain closed until all repairs, including bridge replacement, are complete.  
NDOT recommends that heavy trucks and semi-truck traffic only take marked detours and avoid county roads in these areas. Many of the county roads are unable to support semi-truck traffic. NDOT will continue to provide detours for each bridge that has either been washed out or requires repair through 511.nebraska.gov.

Contact Todd Seifert, communications director, at tseifert@greatplainsumc.org.


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