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BELLWOOD — Sitting aboard a jon boat Thursday near his wife and clutching their 16-year-old cocker spaniel, Ollie, Craig Sorensen was in a state of shock.

“I just thought there goes my life, because we got our lives invested in that place,” the 70-year-old said. “I was freaking out, because everything we had worked for was going down the drain.”

He and his wife, Julie, were among many people forced to evacuate their Brandenburg Lake home in the Bellwood area just south of Columbus because of significant flooding.

The couple moved to their lake home six years ago. The area near the Platte River had no history of flooding and the house is not in a floodplain.

“This was new for everybody there,” Julie said Saturday afternoon. “Some people have lived there for many years and this has never happened.”

The couple woke up Thursday to get ready for work in Columbus. Julie works full-time in the Walgreens pharmacy and Craig part-time at Menards. Calls from both employers alerted them to the weather conditions.

About noon, the couple was told they could voluntarily evacuate because of the rising water. They didn’t immediately leave, but Craig moved their truck across the bridge and returned home.

But the water continued to rise — the Sorensens estimated 6 feet an hour — and the lake’s barrier was breached. At 1 p.m., law enforcement officials told them evacuation was mandatory and they'd be back to get them in about an hour and a half.

“We obviously knew the waters were creeping up,” Julie said. “So we packed up two bags worth of stuff — some extremely high-value stuff, our medications, some clothes, grabbed our dog and waited for transportation. It was rising so fast. We didn’t have days to prepare for this — it was just boom, there it was.”

They both acknowledged it was scary, as they witnessed water reach the second step of their basement. But, they said, there was no time to panic or think about what they were leaving behind.

“There are a million things you want to take, but when you’re walking around dumbfounded, you’re just going,” Craig said.

High winds and rising water made it harder for the evacuation to get underway, but by 5 p.m., members of the volunteer fire departments in Bellwood and David City helped them and their neighbors get out.

Craig and Julie praised first responders efforts, recalling how the volunteer firefighters took turns ushering the boats by foot through the cold water.

“They were wonderful. I can’t commend them enough — they are our heroes,” Julie said. “They were so accommodating, so caring. It’s a true calling.”

Craig agreed.

“These guys in my book are at the top. They’re out there freezing their asses off saving our lives, so I owe them. We’re grateful to these guys,” he said. 

While on the jon boat making their way to dry land, Julie snapped a photo with her phone of Craig and Ollie, which went viral on social media. 

“We were just sitting in the boat, both of us just looking around. It was all so surreal seeing that much water. I just saw my husband holding our dog and thought, ‘I need this.’"

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Craig said all he was thinking about was holding on tightly to their 16-year-old dog, who is blind and deaf.

“I’m glad we got out of there, but we didn’t realize it was going to be a historic flood,” he said.

Craig and Julie are staying with their daughter in Utica. Craig said Sunday he had been back to the house to survey the damage, and despite the flooding, their home won’t be a total loss.

“For that we’re grateful,” Craig said.

“We’re warm, we’re dry, we’re OK. We really are. It could have been so much worse,” Julie said. “And they’re (the firefighters) heroes.”

As for Ollie, the dog proved he’s quite the trooper despite his advanced age and disabilities. Saturday, he was relaxing.

“He’s the best damn dog I ever had,” Craig said. “He’s sitting here on the seat next to me and just snoozing away. He’s been through a lot.”

Photos, video from flooding and storms in Nebraska

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Online editor

Victoria Ayotte Brown is the Journal Star online editor.

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