KEARNEY — Nine times Wednesday volunteer firefighters rescued motorists stranded in flood waters in Buffalo County.
"In the 40-plus years I’ve been here I’ve never seen anything like this. It was a very busy night and we’re lucky no one drowned," said Neil Miller, Buffalo County sheriff.
Firefighters from Kearney, Elm Creek and Ravenna responded to water rescue calls. One of those calls sent a Kearney dive team member to the hospital after he ingested water rescuing a female driver.
No serious injuries were reported in any of the rescues, Miller said.
At 9:04 p.m. Kearney firefighters were called to an area near 17th Avenue and the Wood River bridge where a female driver tried to drive through flood water. The car was swept off the road to the east, said Fire Chief Jim Tacha, and she was "basically out in the field."
The woman managed to get to the roof of her car where she waited as the dive team tried a couple of times to rescue her. Fire Capt. Dave Krueger estimated the woman’s vehicle was in five to six feet of water, 100-150 yards east of the road.
"You could see the roof of the car," he said. "She was sitting on the roof."
A dive team member eventually reached the woman, gave her a life jacket and took her to safety.
"It was something else, I tell you what," Tacha said. "I was really proud of our people. That was a challenge."
The dive team member was treated at the hospital and released later Wednesday night. The woman also was transported. Her name and condition are unknown.
At 11:02 p.m. Ravenna volunteer firefighters responded to a man trapped inside the semi he was driving at Buffalo County Lake east of Ravenna. The main road into Ravenna was closed due to flood waters and traffic was detoured east on Navaho Road.
Ravenna Fire Chief DeWayne Thomsen said the semi driver from Missouri missed a turn for the detour and ended up at the county lake, which was over its banks. The driver tried to turn around and stalled in 3-4 feet of water.
Firefighters were able to walk to the semi and rescue the driver, who was uninjured.
Elm Creek firefighters rescued three people from flood waters. At 9:19 p.m. they responded to 56th Street and Turkey Creek Road northwest of Elm Creek for a car stranded in flood water.
As they were rescuing that driver another vehicle got stuck in flood water about one-quarter mile west. The driver walked to firefighters, said Bob Reineke, fire chief.
Firefighters went to the second stranded vehicle where they rescued a passenger and a dog.
Around midnight firefighter were called to a third water rescue for a vehicle stalled in flood waters on 39th Street just west of U.S. Highway 183, a rural road southwest of Elm Creek. The male driver was rescued.
All drivers were uninjured.
Earlier in the night, around 8:42 p.m. Kearney firefighters responded to an area one-third mile east of Avenue N on 92nd Street where a motorist tried to drive into water running over the road. Because of the weight of the rescue truck paramedics from CHI Health Good Samaritan reached the driver instead. The driver and another person were transported to the hospital. Their names and conditions are unknown.
"Good Sam made it through but we weigh about five times what they do," Tacha said. "We debated it and decided not to try it."
Four minutes later firefighters were called to an area north of Riverdale near the Wood River bridge for a male driver who tried to cross the bridge and their vehicle stalled. Tacha said the water wasn’t above the tires in that area, and firefighters were able to back their engine to the vehicle and rescue the man and his small dog.
Tacha urged motorists to find other routes when roadways are flooded.
"I can’t stress enough how quickly you lose control of your vehicle. You’re at the mercy of whatever happens to you," he said. "You put not only yourself in danger, put you put first responders in danger, too."