KEARNEY — Expect a disaster declaration for all of Nebraska, Buffalo County Emergency Manager Darrin Lewis said today after spending most of Wednesday and today coordinating emergency operations in the county’s civil defense bunker.
Heavy rains, flooding, blizzard conditions — they add up to a disaster the size of which Lewis has not seen during his 16 years as Buffalo County’s emergency manager.
“You’re going to see a statewide declared disaster. Based on all the flooding and the snow in the west and the blizzard conditions today, I’m sure we’re going to see a federal disaster declaration,” Lewis said today. “We’ve seen winter and spring weather combined, but not to this extent, and we’ve not seen flooding to this extent. We have roads closed that have never been closed because of flooding.”
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As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, Buffalo County had assembled a list of 57 roads that were flooded and dangerous. The list will be updated as more road washouts and other problems are reported.
Lewis said people were rescued Wednesday from the Wood River near Kearney and from an emergency near Elm Creek. In total, there were nine water rescues Wednesday.
He said in addition to the water rescues, a first responder required hospitalization after an accident near Ravenna, where flooding occurred.
Lewis said he expects the National Guard might be deployed to help in Nebraska’s hardest hit regions, but he doesn’t anticipate a Guard detachment being sent to Buffalo County.
“They won’t come to our area, but there’s a lot of flooding going on across the state,” he said.
He estimated that about 2 inches of rain fell in Buffalo County. Because it couldn’t penetrate the frozen soil, the precipitation accumulated in low areas. Today’s blowing snow will add a layer of difficulty for first responders, so Lewis urged residents of Buffalo County to remain at home and not risk finding themselves needing to be rescued.
“The wind and snow are blowing. It’s colder. Rescues will be far more difficult. I continued to urge everyone to stay off the roads,” he said. “Just because it looks like there is a little water over the road, that doesn’t mean there is a road underneath it. Our motto continues to be, ‘turn around, don’t drown.’”