By Melissa Brackle, DOR, Birchwood Manor
North Bend, Nebraska. Population 1,177. This is where I grew up. A small town in the Midwest. A town where we have chosen to raise our family: our 7-year-old daughter, 5-year-old twin boys, and 2-year-old boy. There have been various floods throughout the years – only one other in my lifetime. But none of them were to this proportion, according to the older folk at the coffee shop.
During the week of March 11, there was a lot of talk around town that there may be flooding. There were ice jams in the Platte River, which is located half a mile south of North Bend, which were possibly going to cause flooding. My husband and I weren’t too concerned, as we built our house a little over a year ago high enough to be out of the flood plane and without a basement in case of an event like this.

The week before it all started

As the week went on, more and more talk. And more and more of our friends and neighbors were prepping. School had already been cancelled Wednesday and for the rest of the week.
On the evening of March 13, my husband and I decided we should probably pack bags for ourselves and the kids “just in case.” We packed clothes for two to three days and set them by the door in case we had to rush away during the night. That night was uneventful. The following days, not so much.
The fire department called a voluntary evacuation for our housing development on Thursday. We left our home to stay at my sister’s south of town. We attempted to come home Thursday evening, and another voluntary evacuation was called again. This time we chose to stay in town but just head further away from the water at my mother’s home.
After the events of Thursday, the real excitement came on Friday morning. There is a cutoff ditch that runs three and a half miles west of town that became flooded when part of its levee failed. Around 8 Friday morning, we went to our home to see how things looked from the events during the night. Our home was dry, although the road getting to our home had some high water in the ditches. We again left for work like any other day.

The waters rose quickly

At around 9:15, we got a message from a neighbor saying the waters were rising around the golf course and our road would more than likely be completely covered and impassable with in 15 minutes. My husband and I finished up at work and went to look at the road to our house.
By 10 am, there were feet of water covering the road, so much I can’t even put a number to it. The waters were coming fast. We picked up our children and waited things out at my mother’s house, who lives in town. My husband, along with some other friends, went to the local co-op to fill sandbags needed in town.
Nebraska Flood 2019

A mandatory evacuation

Around 12, I got a call from him telling me I need to load up the kids and get out of town fast. The waters were coming down the highway from the west. We loaded up, left my mom’s house, and headed north to a friend’s parent’s house who just happened to be on vacation during this time. Cars and cars were heading north out of town, as this was the only way out due to all other highways already being closed with flood waters taking over roads.
The town called a mandatory evacuation. We were safe with a large group of friends. At one point we had 50 people, both adults and children, taking shelter with us at our friend’s parent’s home. About half of them dispersed to other various locations throughout the rest of the day, leaving 26 of us who would call this our “home” during the flood while waiting for it to be safe to return to town. The residents of our facility had a much more exciting evacuation.

Birchwood Manor evacuation

Birchwood Manor was housing 46 residents at the time of the flood. Just like many other senior living communities, we have independent residents who can walk on their own all the way to dependent folks needing Hoyer lifts and total care from staff. Just like the rest of the town, these residents needed to be evacuated. The staff had no time to get a change of clothes, personal items or other belongings before they needed to get loaded on the buses. The staff loaded medication carts, an EZ stand, and extra wheelchairs in the allowed time. These residents traveled on buses and vans to the deemed evacuation site 20 miles north of North Bend in an auditorium.
The waters came into town so fast that the last three of the residents had to be evacuated out of town by an airboat and met a bus one mile out of town. From there, 14 of the 46 residents who needed more care (such as Hoyer lifts) were sent to Infinity’s sister facility at Parkview Homes in Dodge, Nebraska. The others were taken to the auditorium to wait things out.
The residents were provided with excellent care from the staff, this being the same staff who had been working with them for the past 48 hours already as most of them were unable to return to their homes due to road closures from the flood waters. Although the residents were safe from flood waters, it wasn’t like home. They had to sleep on cots at night, use non-handicap accessible bathrooms, and not have the comforts you would want at a time like this.

Loving help and support

I visited these residents at one point during the weekend (I can’t tell you what day because all those days seemed to run together). They were wearing thin. When I approached one resident, attempting to be in a cheerful mood, she hugged me, resting her head on my chest stating, “I’m so tired.” I was able to get some assistance with laying this resident down, getting her as comfortable on a cot as possible.
Our administrator, who has a nursing background, was with these residents the entire time with his calm attitude. He was determined to get our residents back to their home as soon as possible. He worked with the owner of the senior living community and looked at their emergency plan. After many conversations with the fire department, city council, and the state, our residents were brought back home Sunday night with all emergency precautions in place.
The sewer system and water were unusable, so the teams brought pallets of bottled water, porta-potties, and various other items to keep the staff and residents safe. The following Monday, the state decided against its initial decision and the residents needed to be transferred out of the building as soon as possible. On Monday evening, the remaining residents were dispersed to three other local senior living communities to wait out the remainder of the flood.

The “vacation house”

We were well taken care of at our “vacation house” as one of the kids called it. We were blessed with amazing friends who lived about two miles up the road and brought us meal after meal for our large families.
We made the best out of a not so good situation. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with green eggs and Irish music for breakfast (along with green beers at supper of course!), we “played” school and had spelling tests (as three of us had first graders in our families), and we played numerous card games to pass the time.
As the waters receded, men in our group went to town to assess the damage. They found a 30 lb. carp in the waters by the elementary school. And to no one’s surprise, they came home with it, gutted it, and had a fish fry!

Assessing the damage

The flood waters slowly receded to reveal the damage it caused. Some homes had up to four feet of water in their basements, water on their main floors, and damage many household items. Some people had their heaters and other electrical items damaged, making their homes unsafe for them to be in.

There is so much damage to the roads in town from potholes, roads being caved in, and roads being washed away, including the road to our house. The gravel road leading to our home – and the only road home – had been entirely washed away, leaving the culverts entirely exposed.

There was so much water that town officials used a canoe to assess the flood damage. We were not about to travel on canoe to our home with four small children and a 110 lb. dog. We were blessed enough to have friends and family that took us in, giving us beds to sleep in, food to eat, a toilet and shower to use, and laundry facilities.
We were unsure of when we would be able to return our home as the road had to be rebuilt, and it wasn’t a top priority at the time. Thankfully, we have a great neighbor who insisted on getting this road built to allow the residents of our housing development to return home as soon as possible. It took three days, lots of man power, and lots of dirt and rock, but they managed to get a temporary road built for us to use. We were away from our home for eight days but were able to return to a dry home without damage. We were one of the lucky ones.

Continued support after the flood

As I’m writing this story two weeks after the flood took over our town, there is still so much cleanup to do. I come from a great small-town community who worked together to help everyone who needed it.

Even though school was out for two weeks, these kids were learning life lessons. High school age kids were assisting people with cleaning basements, hauling out damaged belongings, and providing man power for cleanup. I took my 7-year-old to help at the Donation Depot, a place where residents could come for donated supplies ranging from cleaning supplies to toiletries to food to get them by until local roads were reopened.

The outpouring response from people wanting to help has been amazing! My Infinity family was so generous and helpful, as there were times I was unable to make it to where I was scheduled to work due to road closures, daycare being closed, juggling our work schedules to stay home with the kids, and overall exhaustion. I pray I never have to see another flood again in my lifetime, but if I do, I will be sure to pack for more than three days next time!

North Bend may only be a dot on the map with our one blinking stop light, but we are proud and honored to call this our forever home. We are Nebraska Strong.

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