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Antelope County remains at a stand still Thursday thanks to massive flooding. Schools are closed, semis are parked and the Neligh fire hall has become a shelter for about three dozen people who are stranded.
Sheriff Bob Moore, who serves as the Antelope County Emergency Manager, was one of several county officials who met Thursday morning at the courthouse to discuss the situation. Deputy Emergency Manager Mike Mortensen, county commissioners, fire chiefs and council members from the communities also attended.
Moore said everyone is pressing for a date as to when travel will be allowed again, but he said until water recedes, roads cannot be assessed and travel will not be allowed.
“When are we going to get Antelope County up and running? We do not have a date,” Moore said. “Our number one priority right now is safety and keeping people off the roads. We have water over the road in many places. The highways are wet and slick from the freeze, so if a vehicle slides into the ditch, we have the potential for drownings. People need to stay home.”
Moore said Antelope County is continuing its emergency declaration of no travel, which includes no postal service and no school. He said no schools will be in session on Friday in the county due to the emergency situation.
“Patience is going to be Antelope County’s greatest virtue right now because of so many unknowns,” Moore said. “We have culvert washed out, bridges gone, roads gone. This will not get fixed overnight. We are talking about days and maybe weeks to get travel re-established on certain routes in the county. To put a time or date on when schools or the postal service can be moving again, that’s something we simply cannot do right now.”
Moore said Highway 275 between Neligh and Oakdale remains a concern. The ice jam moved from the west side of the Elkhorn River to the east side, which is now backing water up over the highway around Spud’s Trucking. Workers spent nearly 4 hours on the bridge Wednesday night using an excavator to move ice chucks to keep the river flowing.
While most of respected the local and state emergency declaration, not all have. Much of Thursday’s meeting was spent discussing how rescues would be coordinated should more occur. Moore said the Sheriff’s Office will handle all calls and send the proper responders to the emergency situations.
“None of the three water rescues we had should have happened,” Moore said. “There have been numerous water rescues throughout Northeast Nebraska with this flood from people who did not comply with state and county declarations.”
Moore said all three rescues in Antelope County were successful. The first involved minors in Riverside Park, the second was a household in Oakdale and the third was a car overcome by water overnight between Tilden and Oakdale.
The travel ban left dozens of people stranded in Neligh. Moore said the Neligh Fire Department stepped up to shelter nearly 40 people. During Thursday’s meeting, the county authorized $10,000 for expenses ensued and to shelter displaced individuals for another night.
“I can’t thank the Neligh Fire Department enough for the shelter,” Moore said. “They have went above and beyond to help with the emergency situation, the rescues and the shelter.”
Moore said it’s been nine years since the county experienced this type of flooding, which in 2010 was called a 100-year flood. Although difficult to compare the two situations, Moore said officials are more knowledgable with this emergency having gone through the 2010 flood.
“We are way more prepared than we were then,” said Moore, who was the police chief in Elgin at that time. “We didn’t have (Road Superintendent) Casey Dittrich and only had supervisors looking at road damage. Casey has been an asset in this process by documenting everything from the start. As incident commander, I’ve been through all of the classes, and so has my deputy Mike Mortensen. We are documenting everything and more prepared for this emergency situation.”
Documentation was one of the biggest reasons for Thursday’s meeting, Moore said, which was primarily informational on what to do for NEMA and possibly FEMA, if President Trump signs a federal order. Moore said the county wants to have all of its paperwork in order and everything recorded with expenditures and man hours listed for the entire flood process.
Moore said it’s taken a lot of teamwork from first responders, the county, state and many other organizations. However, much more work remains. On Friday, if the water has begun to recede, they plan to begin assessing roads.
“Road assessment will be the next priority, but that can’t begin until tomorrow,” Moore said. “This is a bigger monster than Antelope County resources have. It will take other private contractors coming in to help re-establish the services in this county, especially the roads.”