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HURRICANE IRMA
Aircraft carrier is rushed to the hurricane-battered Keys

MIAMI — Authorities sent an aircraft carrier and other Navy ships to help with search-and-rescue operations in Florida on Monday as a flyover of the hurricane-battered Keys yielded what the governor said were scenes of devastation.

"I just hope everyone survived," Gov. Rick Scott said.

He said boats were cast ashore, water, sewers and electricity were knocked out, and "I don't think I saw one trailer park where almost everything wasn't overturned." Authorities also struggled to clear the single highway connecting the string of islands to the mainland.

The Keys felt Irma's full fury when the storm blew ashore as a Category 4 hurricane Sunday morning with 130 mph winds. How many people in the dangerously exposed, low-lying islands defied evacuation orders and stayed behind was unclear.

As the storm weakened into a tropical storm and finally left Florida on Monday after a run up the entire 400-mile length of the state, the full scale of its destruction was still unknown, in part because of cut-off communications and blocked roads.

Five deaths in Florida have been blamed on Irma, along with two in Georgia and one in South Carolina. At least 34 people were killed in the Caribbean as the storm closed in on the U.S. mainland.

Statewide, more than 6.7 million homes and businesses remained without power, and officials warned it could take weeks for electricity to be restored to everyone. More than 180,000 people huddled in shelters.

"How are we going to survive from here?" asked Gwen Bush, who waded through thigh-deep floodwaters outside her central Florida home to reach National Guard rescuers and get a ride to a shelter. "What's going to happen now? I just don't know."

The governor said it was way too early to put a dollar estimate on the damage.

During its march up Florida's west coast, Irma swamped homes, uprooted trees, flooded streets, snapped miles of power lines and toppled construction cranes.

In a parting shot, it triggered severe flooding around Jacksonville in the state's northeastern corner. It also spread misery into Georgia and South Carolina as it moved inland with winds at 50 mph, causing flooding and power outages.

Around the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, where Irma rolled through early Monday, damage appeared modest. And the governor said damage on the southwest coast, including in Naples and Fort Myers, was not as bad as feared. In the Keys, though, he said "there is devastation."

"It's horrible, what we saw," Scott said. "I know for our entire state, especially the Keys, it's going to be a long road."

He said the Navy dispatched the USS Iwo Jima, USS New York and the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to help with search and rescue and other relief efforts.

Emergency managers in the islands declared on Monday "the Keys are not open for business" and warned that there was no fuel, electricity, running water or cell service and that supplies were low and anxiety high.

"HELP IS ON THE WAY," they promised on Facebook.

The Keys are linked by 42 bridges that have to be checked for safety before motorists can be allowed in, officials said. The governor said the route also needs to be cleared of debris and sand, but should be usable fairly quickly.

In the Jacksonville area, close to the Georgia line, storm surge brought some of the worst flooding ever seen there, with at least 46 people pulled from swamped homes.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office warned residents along the St. Johns River to "Get out NOW."

"If you need to get out, put a white flag in front of your house. A t-shirt, anything white," the office said on its Facebook page. "Search and rescue teams are ready to deploy."

A tornado spun off by Irma was reported on the Georgia coast, and firefighters inland had to rescue several people after trees fell on their homes.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the first time ever in Atlanta, and school was canceled in communities around the state. More than 100,000 customers were without power in Georgia and over 80,000 in South Carolina.

Over the next two days, Irma is expected to push to the northwest, into Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

People in the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area had braced for the first direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921. But by the time Irma arrived in the middle of the night Monday, its winds were down to 100 mph or less.

"When that sun came out this morning and the damage was minimal, it became a good day," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.


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Nebraska utility workers headed to Florida, where millions without power

The first team of Nebraska utility workers planned to reach hurricane-hit Florida on Monday afternoon to help undertake a massive power-restoration effort in a state where millions of people were without electricity.

Fourteen Lincoln Electric System workers met rain on their way to Tallahassee, Florida's capital, utility spokeswoman Rachel Barth said. 

"They don’t really know what to expect when they get there," Barth said.

Close to 40,000 homes and businesses were without power Monday morning in Tallahassee, city officials reported.

The LES crews don't know yet how long they'll remain in the city or where else in Florida they might be sent, but with continued storms Monday, they expect lots of work, Barth said.

A contingent of 21 Nebraska Public Power District workers left York early Monday with plans to reach Tennessee on Monday night before continuing to the Florida-Alabama border Tuesday, said spokesman Mark Becker.

Once they arrive, Florida's highway patrol will escort them to Tampa to begin work.

More than 391,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Tampa area Monday, Becker said.

In addition to utility crews, Nebraska has deployed 100 National Guard soldiers and four helicopters to aid Hurricane Irma relief in Florida. And a group of 80 rescue workers from Lincoln and the Omaha area is already stationed in Florida's Panhandle.

Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force 1 remained at Eglin Air Force Base on Monday, awaiting its disaster-relief assignment.

The specialized team, which includes 38 Lincoln Fire and Rescue firefighters, held an impromptu memorial Monday morning for the first responders killed 16 years ago in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The team also has used downtime to train on using GPS to map its searches and better prepare for water rescues.

Crew members inspected equipment to ensure it is mission-ready when the task force gets its orders.

Task Force leader Capt. Dave Kluthe of Lincoln Fire and Rescue said it was possible the team could be sent to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were hit hard by Irma. But that wasn't a strong possibility, because of the challenge of getting the task force's trucks, boats and semis to the Caribbean islands.

"Nothing is set in stone," Kluthe said.


FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star 

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley talks with quarterback Tanner Lee (13) during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.


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Veterans discuss Vietnam War and new Ken Burns documentary at Monday panel

Caught in the quagmire of the Vietnam War, army nurse Cheryl Feala had little information about the political climate back home and the demonstrations rocking the country. 

"The whole time you were there in Vietnam, the demonstrations, everything else didn't stop," said Feala, of North Bend, who worked as an Army nurse in a hospital in South Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.

But Feala said Ken Burns' expansive new documentary, "The Vietnam War," which premieres Sunday, will help veterans such as herself understand the war's impact.

Feala joined four other veterans Monday for a panel discussion following a sneak peek of the documentary at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, fielding questions and shedding light on the war and their experiences.

Panelist Dau Nguyen, who served in the South Vietnamese Navy, said the film balances the many different points of view.

"There are no sides in the movie," said Nguyen, who moved to Lincoln in 2003. "There is no American side, no North Vietnamese side. It only documents what happened, and that neutrality is important."

The screening included scenes from the 10-part series that Burns co-directed with filmmaker Lynn Novick.

They utilize photographs, TV broadcasts, home video, audio recordings and other archival footage to tell the story of the nearly two decades-long war that killed more than 58,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of North and South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians.

One clip from Monday's screening detailed the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 that escalated the war.

Feala said the movie represents what she and other veterans experienced during the war.

"You get all these perspectives from both sides, and I think everyone has their own way of digesting that," Feala said. "Whether you were North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, or an American, you each had your own idea of what your role was in the war.

"Everybody had a purpose, they just weren't always the same."

The series was nearly 10 years in the making, featuring testimony from about 100 people involved in the conflict.

The film's first episode will premiere on NET (Lincoln channel 12) Sunday at 7 p.m. The next four episodes will air at the same time Sept. 18-21.

The final five episodes will air Sept. 24-28, also at 7 p.m.

Two more screenings, followed by a panel discussion, will be held at the Johnny Carson Theatre in Norfolk on Wednesday and at the Hastings Museum Super Screen Theatre on Sunday.

Both screenings are free and open to the public.