Rural Macy residents evacuate ahead of flood

Rural Macy residents evacuate ahead of flood

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MACY -- When they someday account for all the damage from the 2011 Missouri River flood, the little house on the Omaha Indian Reservation probably won't amount to a percent of a percent.

But when Winona Caramony talks about her home on the forested bottom ground east of Macy, you begin to understand that worth and value are not the same.

"The hardest thing about it is leaving my home," the 86-year-old Omaha elder said Thursday. "I don't have too much but a lot of memories in that place. That's why I'm really reluctant about leaving it."

Caramony is one of dozens of tribal members who have been displaced by the flood. Based on information from Omaha tribal officials, the river is expected to flood the homes with 2 to 4 feet of water when it crests late this week or early next week.

Water also will cover thousands of acres of land farmed by the tribe, and it will be there for weeks or months. What's more, it jeopardizes the tribe's casino on the Iowa side of the river, possibly leaving it closed for the summer.

It amounts to three economic blows to one of the most economically strapped communities in Nebraska. More than six out of 10 people on the reservation are unemployed, and the community's estimated per capita income is below $8,000.

"The flood is going to claim these houses from very limited-income people," said Danine Morris, a tribal staff member who is helping organize the emergency response.

The community of about 970 residents 30 miles south of Sioux City is not believed to be at direct risk from the Missouri River. But officials will keep a close eye on the Blackbird Creek, a tributary that backed up into Macy during the flood of 1952.

The flood response has been hampered by a delay in getting sand and bags, Morris said. The Omahas bought materials to build a berm around the casino, and they have received a modest supply of sandbags from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to put around houses.

They focused on protecting the casino because it is a primary source of income for the tribe, Morris said. Flood protection work at the casino was completed Thursday, so crews of volunteers and tribal staff turned their attention to the houses in the flood plain.

Tribal leaders urged the evacuation of 18 households, Morris said. All but one has complied.

A total of 54 families have been affected, she said, explaining that multiple generations live under one roof. Twelve of the houses were built by the Omaha Tribal Housing Authority, while five were privately constructed.

Friends and family helped the displaced pack up and move their belongings. Because most qualify for housing assistance, tribal staff helped them find other housing in Macy, Walthill and other surrounding towns.

"They have cultural ties to the reservation," Morris said. "They don't want to leave."

Among those who didn't want to leave is Renee Saunsoci, who recently moved from Lincoln back to her mother's river bottom home. She is one of nine family members who have been relocated to a smaller house on higher ground south of Macy.

Before they left, the family gathered to make a spiritual offering to the river and to their ancestors. Both are tied together and woven into the Omaha culture, she said.

Many Omahas believe the flood is a sign. We all need to pay close attention, Saunsoci said.

"Hopefully, it will bring about awareness that we need to take better care of our land, our water especially," she said.

Her mother, Alice Saunsoci, is a tribal elder who teaches the Omaha language at Nebraska Indian Community College. She has lived on the river bottom for 30 years.

The flood reminds her of what her parents called "June rise." In the days before dams were constructed upstream, the river often spread out of its banks in June. The people would flock to the shallows and spear fish.

She's not happy about being displaced, but she's not going to dwell on it either, she said. She accepts what has happened and will try to see the good in it.

"We're going to do the best we can," she said. "We have to stay united. This is the time for unity."

Reach Joe Duggan at 402-473-7239 or jduggan@journalstar.com

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Cliff and Donna Ferguson already had hauled out chairs, a bed, their television -- nearly everything that would be ruined if the Missouri River spills over its banks as expected and floods their home in the small southwest Iowa town of Hamburg, 15 miles southeast of Nebraska City.

If you would like to make a contribution to those displaced by flooding on the Omaha Indian Reservation, you may send it to:

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