The Great Flood of 2011
The roar of the Missouri flowing through the 14 floodgates spanning the shared Nebraska and South Dakota border was a hungry lion waiting to pounce. Soon the nation’s longest river would attack Nebraska with one of the worst floods in its history.
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Coast Guard Rescues Itself - OMAHA
In its nearly 220 years of existence, the U.S. Coast Guard has performed many rescue missions on the high seas, but when the highest seas of the Missouri River came rolling in on Omaha, the 17-member crew of the Cutter Gasconade had just 10 days to save themselves. The floodwaters were coming, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had packed up their trucks and headed for the exits. If these guys took the cutter down river, their headquarters risked being flooded out, and the Coast Guard would face several million dollars in repairs.
They decided not to abandon ship. All they needed during this 10-day struggle was 18 water pumps running 24-7, and about 900 tons of sand, and a crew that refused to quit. Mission accomplished.
“We were pretty much on our own,” said the crew’s leader, Master Chief Dean Smith, a native of Eagle, Colo., who now resides in Bellevue with his wife and three children. “I was a little bit worried when I saw the Army Corps was just loading everything into semi trucks and leaving. That kind of made me question
the decision we were making.”
But soon help was on the way, Iowa Coast Guard members, retirees from the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Omaha prison inmates all helped the crew load 45,000 sandbags and build a 6-foot-high wall all around their building. Smith said the critical move came when one of the younger members of the crew suggested increasing the wall on the river’s side to 7 feet high.
“When everything shook out at the end we were only within probably less than 2 inches from overtopping,” Smith said. “So if we had made it the original height, the water would have overtopped and we would have lost our building.”
Although the cutter patrols 500 miles of the Missouri and has been stationed in Omaha since the ship was commissioned in 1964, their mission is a mystery to much of Nebraska, and even the Coast Guard. “There’s a lot of people who are in the Coast Guard that don’t even know there’s an inland fleet,” Smith said.
Dustin Roll is the only Nebraskan native helping patrol his state’s shores. He grew up in West Omaha, and a few months out of high school he signed up in October of 2000 after a strange twist of fate. “One my best buddies had an appointment and I went down with him because he didn’t want to go alone,” Roll said. “I was the one who ended up joining.”
Roll, who has worked his way up to the middle ranks of E5 second class petty officer, said the Gasconade crew came up with innovative tactics to turn back the flood. They dug trenches to aid deeper pumping and slowed water flowing up toilets with hemp-fiber rags. The crew has been honored for its efforts with a Meritorious Unit Commendation.
“It was getting a little hairy here and there at certain points,” Roll said. “The more we worked together as a team, we came up with better ideas. We saved the Coast Guard a lot of money by saving our building.”
But the biggest honor for Roll was after nearly a decade of service he was able to return to his hometown in 2010 for a 3-year tour.
“It was my dreamboat to get stationed back here,” he said.