On a normal day, Silverhawk Aviation charges about $1,000 for the 12-minute flight between Lincoln and Fremont.

But there was nothing normal about Saturday or Sunday in Nebraska, where a third of the state was grappling with historic flooding — and the 25,000 people who lived on the new island of Fremont were cut off from the rest of Nebraska by the widening Elkhorn and Platte rivers.

So Silverhawk began flying rescue missions, carrying people in and out — but mostly out — of Fremont for free. Between Saturday and Monday, seven Silverhawk pilots used four of the company’s airplanes to make at least a couple of dozen trips, helping about 120 people get where they needed to be.

“It was obvious the people who needed it the most couldn’t afford our normal charter rates,” said company owner Mike Gerdes. “We saw the need and decided to help.”

And they shared the air with dozens of other planes. Private pilots and flying clubs from Lincoln and Omaha and elsewhere just started showing up, flying in supplies and flying out an estimated 1,000 people over the weekend, said Greg Kjeldgaard, vice president of Fremont Aviation.

“We’ve been very busy,” he said. “This weekend has been the busiest by at least 10 times.”

Silverhawk pilots carried nurses in and out of the flood zone. They gave rides to volunteers with the Denver-based Information Technology Disaster Resource Center. They helped a tourist from New Zealand who’d found himself trapped in Fremont.

But mostly, they reunited families, Gerdes said.

“The kids were on one side or the other from the parents and they hadn’t been able to get back together until we helped them out.”

Demand was tapering off as roads around Fremont were slowly reopening. Silverhawk was scheduled to fly its last free flight Monday afternoon. The company’s passengers have been grateful, Gerdes said.

“That’s been the most rewarding piece — seeing the tears and the joys in the people as they either escape or they’re getting back home,” he said.

North Bend: No water, no sewer

A week ago, the 1,200 residents of North Bend were dealing with too much water, which was spilling out of the Platte, crossing the tracks and U.S. 30, and rolling into town.

Monday, they had the opposite problem.

No water for cleaning, cooking or drinking, until the town can determine whether its supply is contaminated.

No water for flushing, because the sewage treatment plant remained flooded.

“We’ve asked that no one use the sewer,” city clerk Theresa Busse said. “Most are using 5-gallon buckets. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”

The city also set up a dozen portable toilets — six at the park, six at the school.

Much of the town had been evacuated — heading north to Snyder, or east to Fremont — when the water rose, but about half of its residents had returned. Many were finding their basements swamped with 4 to 5 feet of sewage-filled water, Busse said.

The flooding chased the fire department out of its station, so firefighters moved their trucks and gear to a temporary base at the high school. The school is also serving as the distribution site for the donations of food and drinking water and cleaning supplies that started to arrive over the weekend.

The town could know the status of its water supply Wednesday, after testing is complete. Busse couldn’t say when the sewage treatment plant would be working again. Crews were pumping floodwater out of it, but there’s just so much, she said.

Fremont: No longer an island

After three days of isolation, Fremont reconnected with the rest of the state Monday. But not easily.

Most of the major routes out of town — such as U.S. 30 and U.S. 77 — remained closed. A trip to Omaha, normally a 30-minute drive to the southeast, now requires a roundabout 90 minutes that first takes you in the opposite direction — northwest on U.S. 275 to Snyder and then south and east, said Dodge County Sheriff Steve Hespen.

A sometimes-tearful state Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont arose on the floor of the Legislature in Lincoln on Monday to praise the grit of her constituents and the first responders who came to their aid.

It's been "extremely impressive" to see businesses, churches, nonprofits, city officials, first responders, volunteers and Fremont's citizens come together to deal with the challenge, she said.

Some first responders worked 78 to 92 hours "non-stop without relief," Walz said.

On Monday, about 25 percent of Fremont’s homes — all of them in the southwest part of town — remained surrounded by water, and about 1,000 people were still in shelters, said city administrator Brian Newton.

It wasn’t clear when they could return. A pair of levee breaches continued to push water into that part of town. Crews were trying to repair one of the breaks, but the other was unreachable.

“Until the Platte River goes down, there’s nothing we can do,” he said. “It’s Mother Nature.”

Saunders County: Evacuation order lifted

Officials were surveying the damage Monday after weekend evacuation orders were lifted for five lakeside communities near the Platte River north of Ashland.

And it was mixed. The homes in Sandy Point were almost 100 percent flood-free after Saturday’s levee breach, said Terry Miller, Saunders County emergency management coordinator. But homes at nearby Lake Allure and Thomas Lakes filled with up to 3 feet of water.

A main entrance to the communities suffered the most, when floodwater undermined a 60-foot section of road. Miller and others were trying to establish an emergency route into the area.

Up to 500 people live in the lake homes, about half of them full-time, Miller said. And living on a lake next to a river can make you flood-prone. “That area down there, they received the brunt of it, because of how all the water flows. They always have to take on the most water.”

Nearby, the city of Ashland escaped the worst of the flooding. No evacuations. Water in a couple of basements. No threats to its water system. No damage to the new Silver Street Bridge.

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City crews do have to repair the ballfields and pick up debris, but that’s about it, said city administrator Jessica Quady.

“All in all, we’re fairly lucky.”

Offutt AFB: 60 structures surrounded 

Floodwater from the Missouri River started slowly receding from Offutt Air Force Base, but about a third of it remained submerged Monday.

And that third of the base contained 60 structures and buildings, including maintenance shops and hangars, the security forces squadron building, the military working dog training facility, and about 3,000 feet of runway.

“It’s the whole southeast corner of the base,” said Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake. “The further back you go, the deeper the water.”

The Air Force had 24 hours of warning, so it spent the time moving offices and equipment and getting its planes to higher ground, including landing some in Lincoln. About half of its 30 or so aircraft were already away from the base on business, and they’ll stay away until the water is gone.

The shortened runway is still functional but officially closed for now. And only essential personnel must report for duty.

But they're not surrendering to the flood.

“We’re still 100 percent mission capable, even though we’re missing a third of the base.”

Suburban Omaha: Rivers become a lake

In southern Sarpy County, just north of where the Missouri and Platte rivers meet, onlookers stopped on bridges and roadsides to take in the views and their share of photos.

The new U.S. 34 bridge, which spans the Missouri to connect Bellevue to Glenwood, Iowa, opened in 2014. The $140 million structure was an island poking above the floodwaters that stretched several miles in all directions.

Then again, a highway overpass provided a relatively safe vantage point, as traffic moved far slower than the posted 65 mph speed limit. U.S. 34 was closed east of the interchange with U.S. 75, which also had been closed heading south toward Plattsmouth. Nearly all of the tiny unincorporated community of La Platte, just southeast of this junction, was under at least some water.

About a mile to the north, the Normandy Hills neighborhood provided a stunning vista. Cars from both inside and outside the subdivision climbed to its highest point.

Looking east from that hillside, they could view three distinct bodies of water — the Missouri, the Platte and Papillion Creek — that spilled into a single, indistinguishable lake as far as the eye could see. Several feet deep, the water had swallowed farmland, a railroad line and gravel roads.

Reporters Chris Dunker and John Schreier contributed to this report.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.



Peter Salter is a reporter.

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