Flood recovery continues in Niobrara


October 7th, 2011

Niobrara, NE – Recovery is underway in northeastern Nebraska after this year’s devastating flood on the Missouri River. Now that the water is going away, towns are working to bring back their tourism industry.

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Communities along the Missouri river in northeast Nebraska’s Knox County are on the mend. Flooding this summer closed highways, took out homes and threatened the area’s biggest economic driver.

Farm fields along Highway 12 between Verdell and Niobrara are filled with water. A bright October sun beats down. It’s unseasonably hot. One month ago this highway reopened after it closed in June. It’s the only road that leads to Lazy River Acres a community of 200 cabins with about 20 year-round residents. There aren’t very many people around here right now except inside the Blue Moon Bar.

Flood recovery continues in Niobrara, NE (Photo by Clay Masters, NET News)

That’s Blue Moon co-owner Bill Salmen, standing by his business partner Ron Fettig who holds a lit cigarette. There had been 3 feet of standing water in the bar. The two have been rebuilding the Blue Moon for the last month.

“We had three inches of mud on the floor before we could take out the carpet,” Fettig said.

“It’s not a good job and it really stank when you rolled it up,” Salmen said.

Fettig and Salmen aim to have the new bar built by November 1st. But fixing the damage here is just a small start toward the overall repair job. She says before the flood, Lazy River Acres held a value of 7 million dollars. Now, the county will face a large loss in tax income because most of the houses were totaled.

“You not only had the water going through em, trees going through them and things like that. You also have to deal with the mold, mildew, silt, in the houses,” said Laura Hintz, Knox County Emergency Manager. “Some of them even their ceilings that never got wet are black with mold. Those are almost impossible to clean up.”

Even the communities near the river that kept dry were affected.

In the driveway of his home in Niobrara, retired insurance claims adjuster Larry Meier power washes his car. He’s wearing a T-shirt made by students at the school. It reads “I survived the Niobrara Flood of 2011.”

Meier was among many volunteers who put up barricades around the school, which is downhill from the village. But Niobrara’s biggest problem from the flooding was its effect on the economy.

“The town was really hurting because of highway 12 closed east and west of town and the bridge across to South Dakota was closed, only way into town was south,” Meier said. “The businesses were really hurting, glad to get open in time for hunting season, because we basically rely on tourism in this town.”

While the extent of this year’s flooding was a rarity, Knox County Emergency Manager Laura Hintz isn’t making any promises that it won’t happen again.

“It went way beyond the 100 year flood plain, but it’s one of those things we’re still not sure with how much snow’s there’s going to be in the mountains and no one’s guaranteeing this won’t happen next year,” Hintz said.

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