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.

(page 6 of 8)



The Ultimate Power Struggle - BROWNVILLE

When Nebraska was flooded with threats to its power grid one of the guys who was on the front lines was Scott Walz, who works for Nebraska Public Power District, trouble-shooting concerns over highvoltage towers and even the mother of all electrical generators, Cooper Nuclear Station. But Scott never felt powerless despite the challenges.

“I just Google everything,” joked Walz. Still, there had to be electrifying moments when Walz was called in to make sure the Cooper nuclear power plant near Brownville withstood any terror from the Missouri River.

“I was concerned about the flooding and about the safety of the plant,” Walz said. “The actual job of doing the sandbagging was peanuts. We have a lot of heavy equipment and we’ve got good people.

“But our concern was definitely if that nuclear plant would have flooded, we’d be in the same boat as Omaha Public Power District is right now,” said Walz, referring to the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station, which remains shut down after the plant was surrounded by floodwaters.

“If we lose 800 megawatts out of Cooper Nuclear Station we don’t have any other resources to replace it,” said Mark Becker, media relations specialist for NPPD, who stressed that a Cooper shutdown would have dramatically affected ratepayers. “We would have to go out and buy into the market.”

Hundreds of miles to the north in South Sioux City, customers’ power concerns were being handled by Doug Klug, who more than two decades ago went to line school in Norfolk with Walz. In his role as a distributions superintendent, he made sure the city’s waste-water sewage plant kept operating, and he also had to keep the power flowing for vital shopping services like Wal-Mart. Simultaneously, he was evacuating from his own home in Dakota Dunes, S.D.

“It’s a year I’d like to forget,” Klug said.

But Klug never forgot to stress safety for his crews when shutting down electrical systems in flood conditions.

“Water and electric lines do not mix,” he said.

And Klug will also never forget that phone call from South Sioux City he made to his buddy Walz down by the riverside near the Marina Inn.

“I remember calling him and telling him and I’d just seen probably a 150-footby-140-foot deck off a house floating down the middle of the river.”

It was another power trip from this arrogant river, but some dedicated workers refused to back down.


The Lost Season - BROWNVILLE

by Jane Smith (co-owner of River Inn and Spirit of Brownville cruise)

For decades the river has been our business partner. It’s where guests come to relax in our 18 rooms floating gently on the River Inn, and for dinner cruises on our 150-passenger Spirit of Brownville. My husband Randel and I have been doing this for 42 years, and after 42 years I guess you just become a little philosophical. The river can be beautiful and it can be your friend, and then it can be sheer terror.

We’ve had floods before, but in two weeks they would go down and then you would clean up the mess and start over again. But this lasted all summer, from Memorial Day through the middle of September.

The only way to get to our boat on the river is in a boat. We did run a few cruises up the river, but eventually the water went over the big levee there, and the Coast Guard shut all boating down.

It was awful. Almost every weekend we had a wedding scheduled, and all those weddings had to be canceled, including one with 250 guests. Fortunately, our own home is on a very high hill away from flooding, but it was a lost season for many
Main Street businesses, including our own bookstore and cafe, the Brownville Lyceum. When the Nebraska City Bridge shut down for so long it really hampered access. You couldn’t go east, or west.

Everyone in our lovely community pulled together, and helped make the bad things better. Randel and I would take the motor boat down each day to our inn to start the generator and keep air moving so the place didn’t get rusty or moldy. Then the river got so high that the steamboat museum floated off its concrete cradle, so we took the boat over there every day to make sure it stayed connected to its piers.

The river left some places in 6 feet of sand, so our son, James, helped Riverside Park’s campground try to clear out the sand, and trees that fell over. Because the water stayed high for so long the ground just became kind of like oatmeal. There was nothing for the tree range to cling to and they just fell over.

This year, our weddings are booked again as well as some family reunions. I suppose maybe I’m kind of optimistic. I have a saying on my desk that says life is 10 percent what happened to you and 90 percent how you deal with what happened to you. We are just fine. So far, knock on wood, the river is behaving itself very well.


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