KEARNEY — Using buses, airboats and bucket loaders, police, firefighters, game wardens and citizens evacuated more than 200 people Tuesday from Kearney hotels and homes surrounded by floodwaters.
“It was quite the day,” said Tony Rich, a tired assistant chief at the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department Tuesday evening.
Kearney and Pleasanton volunteer firefighters, Kearney Police Department officers, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wardens and Kearney Public Schools buses went from hotel to hotel along Second Avenue near Talmadge Road rescuing stranded travelers. Early on some people walked out of the hotels, but as water levels rose civilians with bucket loaders, and airboats from the game and parks, Norris Marshall of Kearney and Bob Hand of Pleasanton, took people to dry land.
Airboats from Chapman and St. Paul also were on standby.
KVFD started rescuing people around 11 p.m. Monday during the heavy rains on a remote area on Hidden Hills Road west of Cottonmill. Because of flooded rural roads, it took firefighters time to reach the family of seven whose house was surrounded by water.
By 5:30 a.m. Tuesday firefighters started helping residents evacuate from the Van Vleet Trailer Court, which is at 30th Avenue just north of Interstate 80. As the water rose on Turkey Creek on Kearney’s south side, so did the service calls for police and firefighters.
Firefighters rescued motorists trapped in their vehicles on U.S. Highway 30 west of Kearney near Eagle Road, and on East First Street near The Archway. Many calls came from Talmadge Road at the hotels and houses on the west end of that southwest Kearney area.
“That’s when we realized the water was really rising fast,” said Rich. “I pulled in to Talmadge in my personal vehicle on dry land. When I backed out and left the scene, less than an hour later, there was water in the doors of my truck.
“That’s when all the major evacuations started.”
By 1:30 p.m. the majority of hotels were empty and firefighters were making sure restaurants and other business were evacuated. Using the Nebraska State Patrol’s light armored vehicle, a woman was rescued from Cornhusker Trailer Court at 11th Street and Avenue C.
Many of the rescue efforts, Rich said, came from word of mouth or personal phone calls.
“We just stopped counting the number of people we were rescuing,” he said.
Firefighters evacuated a few houses in the area of 92nd Street and Antelope Road, near the Wood River, Tuesday afternoon, and around 5 p.m. firefighters evacuated more residents from the Van Vleet Trailer Court and houses in that area.
Surprisingly, Rich said no injuries, to emergency crews, or the public, were reported.