WOOD RIVER — Just as they did in March, Wood River residents gathered Tuesday and Wednesday to fill sandbags, preparing for another onslaught of water.
Even though they’d already been through this once this year, they were happy about one thing. This time, they had more warning than they did in the middle of March. “We’ve got a lot more time this go-around,” said Shad Smith, who was one of many people working on sandbags Wednesday morning. “We’re a step ahead, we feel like.”
Wood River residents also learned something from the last flood.
On Wednesday morning, workers were preparing to fill two very long silage sacks with water near the intersection of Highway 30 and Cottonwood Street, on the west side of town.
Instead of sandbagging, they planned to use the long bags as a barricade. “We’re trying to kick everything to the south side of the highway here,” said Wood River Mayor Greg Cramer.
If the water gets high enough, the sacks won’t help much. But the people of Wood River were “doing what we can,” Cramer said.
The forecast wasn’t great for Wood River. Residents expected the floodwaters to arrive Wednesday night, with a crest at about noon Thursday.
“It’s supposed to be 4 inches higher than it was last time,” Cramer said.
The water was coming from the Riverdale and Hazard areas north of Kearney, Cramer said. Six to eight inches of rain pounded on that area Monday night. Those floodwaters enveloped the Gibbon area Wednesday morning, which is why sandbaggers were busy in Wood River both Tuesday and Wednesday.
By late Wednesday morning, Wood River residents had filled about 14,000 sandbags. They gathered in the parking lot of Wood River Rural Schools for seven or eight hours Tuesday, which gave them “a good jump on the sandbagging,” Cramer said. The volunteers reassembled at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Having to fight another flood was “stressful” and “kind of disheartening,” Cramer said. “But everybody’s coming together. We’ve got a lot of volunteers.”
Rather than hoping for the best, Wood River residents were preparing for the worst. “Yeah, we’re proactive here,” Cramer said.
At least 80 people were hard at work, putting sandbags on the back of pickup trucks. In many cases, the volunteers were helping people they didn’t even know.
The sandbags went onto pallets, which were picked up by a forklift and placed on trucks.
The sandbags went to whoever needed them, said Chad Mills, owner of Electrical Unlimited.
Some of the sand was provided by volunteer firefighter Josh Follmer, who owns a sandpit.
The city also ordered sand. Officials will pencil out the costs later. “Sand’s cheap,” Cramer said.
Some of the volunteers weren’t even from Wood River. One of the people working hard was Katherine Wilson, who lives in Beatrice. Wilson, who has an aunt in Wood River, was part of a group camping at Windmill State Recreation Area when the heavy rains changed their plans.
All five members of the Zessin family were pitching in Wednesday. Parents Terry and Heather Zessin were filling sandbags with the help of three of their children, Lauryn, 15, Reagan, 12, and Brielle, 9. The oldest, 17-year-old Trey, was volunteering elsewhere in town.
Terry is principal of the high school, and Heather is a secretary at the elementary school. Working at the schools, they know many members of the community. The Zessins also helped sandbag in the spring.
“We were helping people clean out basements last time, too — just something good to do for friends and neighbors, and just being a part of the community,” Heather said.
It was great to see how many people came from other communities, Heather Zessin said. Those people “have no ties to our town. They come and help and lend a hand. It’s amazing,” she said.
One of the people helping was Randy Beckler of Cairo.
Wood River’s infrastructure is cleaned up from the March flood. Many people have repaired their foundations.
“We’re kind of right in the middle of that. If you drive around town, there’s a few places still jacked up,” Cramer said.
Officials are going through the FEMA process. “We did our notice of intent a week and a half ago, which is basically hazard mitigation for us in the city,” Cramer said. “We had seven projects. varying from flood control to storm shelters, generators for the wells, some odds and ends.”
In Alda, meanwhile, volunteers gathered at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Community Center to fill sandbags.