United Methodist Church congregations in Nebraska have become bucket brigades in their efforts to help Houston residents and others in the Texas Gulf clean up after Hurricane Harvey.

Churches from Auburn, Norfolk, Waverly, Lincoln and Omaha have sent cleaning kits in 5-gallon buckets, called flood buckets, to the United Methodist district office off 33rd and Superior streets, said spokesman Todd Seifert.

Nearly 860 buckets filled the hallways outside Seifert's office Tuesday.

"We probably don’t want the fire marshal to walk in,” Seifert joked.

Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. of the Great Plains Conference challenged the 1,008 congregations throughout Kansas and Nebraska to assemble 5,000 flood buckets to help those affected by Harvey.

A truck will pick up the buckets from Lincoln later this week, but church officials expect this to be an ongoing effort as Floridians clean up from Hurricane Irma in the coming weeks, Seifert said.

"The reality is we’re going to help to collect these buckets for weeks, if not months."

On Tuesday, utility crews from Lincoln, Grand Island and Columbus helped restore power in Tallahassee, Florida, as other public power crews from Omaha and York continued their voyage to Florida, where several million homes and businesses remained without electricity.

Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force 1 members still didn't have a mission Tuesday morning and remained staged at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, awaiting further instruction from federal and state emergency management officials.

Since arriving Saturday evening, the 80-member team has used its downtime to train and run logistics ahead of potential Hurricane Irma relief missions. 

"Our logistics folks have planned different routes in southern Florida four or five different times," Task Force leader Jim Bopp said.

The Lincoln-based task force will remain there until it is assigned a mission in Florida or somewhere else in the region, or is sent home.

Other, similar task forces have been put to work in the Florida Keys and Jacksonville areas, said Nebraska Task Force 1 member Brad Thavenet.

Florida already had eight of its own search and rescue task forces before federal officials dispatched more teams like Nebraska's to aid Irma relief efforts, Thavenet said.

Bopp said the crews of Lincoln, Omaha and Papillion firefighters are making good use of their downtime but are still itching to help.

"They really want to get to work,” Bopp said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

Riley Johnson reports on breaking news and public safety issues in Lincoln and southeast Nebraska.

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