In Plattsmouth as the river rises: tired, dry and sandbagging to save downtown

In Plattsmouth as the river rises: tired, dry and sandbagging to save downtown
World-Herald News Service

PLATTSMOUTH — Blue sky and sweet sun beamed over Plattsmouth, a city whose rivers have become lakes.

The cool, late-winter Saturday belied 48 hours of worry in town and flooding around it.

By Saturday afternoon, city leaders found it necessary to erect a low sandbag wall in one spot where the now-extremely wide Missouri River threatened to enter Plattsmouth’s downtown.

For the most part, Plattsmouth sits safely above the floodwater pooled along the Platte and the Missouri.

But some surrounding areas endured flooding. Further, employees at the Cooper Nuclear Station power plant near Brownville stood on alert downstream. The Salvation Army’s Gene Eppley Camp washed out and appeared to be a total lossupstream toward Omaha.

Plattsmouth Mayor Paul Lambert observed the sandbag crew — some city workers and about 40 volunteers who showed up at short notice.

“I have always said the strength of Plattsmouth is the people,” Lambert said. “And you can see it right here.”

A man walked past the mayor. “How you taking this?” the man asked.

“Not a lot of sleep, buddy,” Lambert responded.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that at 5 p.m. Saturday the Missouri River at Plattsmouth had risen to 40.5 feet, smashing the record of 36.7 feet in the flooding of 2011.

Lambert said late Saturday afternoon that there had been no lives lost or injuries. A helicopter rescued one person Friday night and the Plattsmouth Volunteer Fire Department rescued one the day before.

The water treatment plant became waterlogged so Plattsmouth used water from the Cass County Rural Water District No. 1, the mayor said.

“We’ve asked the citizens to conserve water,” he said.

Plattsmouth Police Chief Steve Rathman said city workers “quite frankly are mentally exhausted and physically exhausted” after 48 hours of work.

Rathman assigned his daughter, Katie, and son, Andrew, to request volunteers by social media for the Saturday afternoon sandbag shindig. The Fire Department also put the request on Facebook.

More people, of many ages, turned out than were needed. Rathman said all of them might be needed eventually. Katie Rathman had been assigned by the mayor to keep track on paper and a clipboard how many had volunteered. She did so earnestly.

The sandbags blocked water emerging from an underpass near Main Street. City officials wanted sandbaggers in the area, not gawkers. They strung yellow tape in front of the area where the work took place.

But earlier in the day, people had walked right up to the river water lapping toward busy downtown in the city of 6,500. They came in twos and fours, carrying cameras and marveling at how the Missouri looked like a little sea.

Plattsmouth 70-year-old Ed Olson provided an impromptu narration of the scene. “This is a cornfield,” he said, pointing at the water to the north. Then he looked toward some trailer houses, RVs and summer houses partially submerged in the middle of the vast, flooded Missouri.

“Now it’s a marina,” Olson said. “Pretty day for a flood. You’ve gotta stay positive.”

Retiree Barbara Hamlin, who lives in the Buccaneer Bay area north of Plattsmouth, said her property had stayed dry so far. But getting in and out could become dicey.

“The roads are flooded going in there now,” Hamlin said. “I am worried about being isolated, because we soon won’t have any roads going in or out of there.”

Highway 75 was partially submerged north of Plattsmouth, and there was no reaching Omaha that way. The best route to Omaha from Plattsmouth went through Louisville to the west. And Louisville had its own worries. The Platte River there had risen to 13.67 feet Saturday evening, breaking the 1960 record of 12.45 feet.

But Saturday had been a better day. “Fortunately, the level’s stayed pretty much the same,” Lambert said of the floodwater. “Higher than it’s ever been.”

In Plattsmouth, positive attitudes as Missouri River gushes over banks

People walked in twos and fours from the Plattsmouth business district on Main Street to the spot where the Missouri River has gushed over its banks.

“Crazy, isn’t it?” said a woman walking up to where the water lapped onto the street.

Ed Olson acted as a narrator of the scene.

“This is a cornfield,” he said, pointing to the small sea in front of him. He motioned to some submerged trailers, RVs and summer homes.

“Now it’s a marina,” Olson said.

The day was sunny and cool.

“Pretty day for a flood. You’ve got to stay positive,” Olson said.

North of Plattsmouth two deer drank from a pool that had seeped into a farmfield.