KEARNEY — As flood cleanup begins, Restore badly needs volunteers.
Restore is the six-year-old, nonprofit ecumenical ministry that does major cleanup and restoration, at no charge, after natural disasters.
“Everybody’s been asking for volunteers, but because flooding is still going on east of us, the sheer number of volunteers needed is outpacing what we have,” said Mike O’Brien, Restore’s unofficial leader.
So far, Restore is taking requests for help, “but we’re still in assessment mode, trying to figure out who needs what,” he added.
Restore got its first call for help Tuesday morning. A house on Cottonmill Road and 85th Street had a flooded basement and four feet of water on the first floor.
“The house isn’t near a river or creek, but just the way water ran off the hill caused the damage. The water was flowing so fast around the corner that we found their boat a half mile away,” he added.
“One couple south of Elm Creek still couldn’t get out of their road Thursday morning. I’m not sure if they can get out today (Friday.). In Kearney, floodwater returned, literally, the day after we had finished the last piece of trim and new flooring for a house that was damaged last spring,” he said.
All over again
Needs in Gibbon are critical again. After the March floods, Restore volunteers from four states put in 3,000 manhours there.
“We worked on eight homes in Gibbon, and I know that at least three have re-flooded. We’d just finished many of these, but some people still can’t get back in,” he said.
He said the March destruction was the result of “the perfect storm. Frozen ground, the snow and the rain caused the first flood. All these things had to come together perfectly. Now less than three months, here comes another perfect storm, with nine or 10 inches of rain upriver.
“It was just devastating the first time for these people. Many of them worked so hard to repair their places by themselves, and now the Gibbon area has to start all over,” he said.
Restore also assisted in Wood River in March, but “the last I heard, Wood River is going to be OK. Gibbon had everything sandbagged, too, but the water got much higher,” he said. He added that Wood River needs now will be handled by a new long-term recovery organization in Hall County.
O’Brien is out of town at the moment, said Restore member J.D. Stone, who is assessing damage and requests.
Restore was founded by O’Brien and his wife Patrese in 2013. The year before, the empty nesters headed to Moore, Okla., to do post-tornado volunteer work for Poured-Out Ministries. They found 20 volunteers from Kearney working there, too. They came home and formed a nonprofit specializing in disaster relief.
“We thought we’d take our Bobcat and our pickup and go down to Moore and help. We had no idea it would lead to this,” O’Brien said.
Since then, Restore has helped in Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Illinois, Texas and Florida, but this is the first time it is responding to devastation at home. “Everything is different, this being local,” O’Brien said. “We’ve responded to individual needs like fires, but nothing as widespread as this.”
O’Brien asked that flood victims requesting help be patient. Requests are coming in daily, and Restore must assess each need and set priorities before work begins.
“Right now we’re in assessment mode, asking who needs what?” O’Brien said. “We’ll basically try to get a decent handle on all the requests. We’ll be hitting as much as we can, but we’re giving priority to people who can’t be in their homes. Damaged bedrooms get a higher priority than basements.”
Volunteers came from nearby states to help after March flooding, but as of Friday, he had not yet heard about any out-of-state assistance.
“Everyone wants damage fixed right now, right away, but it doesn’t necessarily work that way,” O’Brien added. “This is going to be a long process.”