More communities in south-central Nebraska were bracing Thursday for flooding from the rain-swollen Wood River. Several streets in Gibbon are already covered in water, and flooding also has been forecast for communities downriver to the east: Shelton, Wood River and Alda.
Warnings were issued after up to 9 inches of rain fell during storms that struck Buffalo, Dawson, Frontier, Gosper, Kearney and Phelps counties overnight Monday. Floodwater entered several communities, including Kearney, where several people were stranded in their homes or vehicles. One woman died Wednesday after water swept away her vehicle and rolled it over in Cozad.
The Hall County emergency management coordinator, Mindy Osterman, said the river crests are expected to be higher this time than in March, when drenching storms hastened snowmelt and caused widespread, devastating flooding in much of eastern Nebraska.
But she expected the flooding — if it occurs as expected — will be different this time. “This time everything’s opened up, the ground’s not frozen,” Osterman said. Officials have had time to fill sandbags and prepare other barriers, and plans have been firmed up for evacuations in advance of flooding instead of during it.
Officials have “done everything they absolutely can” to avoid or at least limit flood damage, she said. Wood River officials recommended residents affected by the March flooding to evacuate now. “It is far better to evacuate while the water is not a problem than trying to get out after it becomes a factor,” the city said in a message to residents.
“We believe we have prepared as much as possible,” said Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Todd King. “Now we are just waiting.” The Red Cross has a shelter set up at the Wood River High School.