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PERU — More than 100 residents packed into the Peru City Hall building on Fifth Street on Sunday afternoon, just about all of them asking local officials the same question: How, and when, are we going to get clean water?  

"Everybody needs to stay patient," Nemaha County emergency manager Renee Crister urged. 

The small town of just under 1,000 was one of dozens in the region scrambling to find a clean and reliable source of water on Sunday as major flooding moved further into Southeast Nebraska. 

The city's water supply had remained safe until Saturday afternoon, when the levee that separates the town from the Missouri River was breached. Two hours later, floodwaters began to overtake low-lying areas and by Sunday afternoon several homes were inundated with several feet of water.

And even though some parts of town remain untouched by the floodwaters, its water system has been compromised. 

"We have the (water) tower and that's what we have," said Crister. "We need to be conserving water and everyone's been doing a good job."

At maximum capacity, the town's water tower holds about 216,000 gallons. When the water system was infiltrated, it was at maximum capacity. But by the time Saturday turned to Sunday, 50,000 gallons had already been used. 

In response, town leaders have urged residents to conserve water as best they can. Meanwhile, volunteers and local firefighters worked Sunday with individuals from the neighboring town of Auburn to bring in water. 

"Auburn firefighters have stepped in to help us," said Assistant Fire Chief Luke Winkelman. "I know it's mass chaos right now, but we're trying to get things set up."

Throughout the day Sunday, firefighters and volunteers from both Auburn and Peru brought in hundreds of gallons of water in "water bladders" that held between one to two-and-a-half gallons each.

The plan is for Winkelman and other volunteers to deliver water to residents who are unable to pick it up themselves, and to the dozens of residents who have been displaced.

"Everybody that's been affected fortunately has a place to go," said Peru firefighter Robert Dean. 

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Along with residents being affected, Peru State College has suspended school until further notice and sent its nearly 2,500 students home. 

And even after the town's meeting on Sunday, there are still more questions than answers. When will the floodwaters recede? How long until the town's water system gets fixed? When will classes resume? All unknown.

Still, despite the hardships that have fallen on not only Peru, but dozens of cities across the state, the response has been tremendous, Crister said. 

"It's been fabulous to see so many volunteers and people willing to help out," she said. "It's that 'small-town USA mentality.' It's what it's all about."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or zpenrice@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @zacharypenrice1

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City desk intern

Spring semester city desk intern at the Journal Star.

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