Kearney Battles Record Floods

Thousands pass by Kearney resident Steve Reidy’s house every single day.

On the north side of I-80, there sits a lake surrounded by large houses right off of Exit 372 just east of Kearney, Nebraska. 

On July 10, thousands of drivers from all over the country passed by the same piece of land. Some may have noticed the lake looking a little full, but at 75 mph, there isn’t much time to process what was happening. There wasn’t enough time to see the washed out driveway to Reidy’s house. If lucky, one may have noticed a man in a kayak around 11:30 a.m. No, he wasn’t out for a morning ride. He paddled across a fast-moving stream just to access his home.

Steve Reidy begins to kayak across his lake to gain access to his home on Wednesday July 10.
Photo by Tim Hofmann

Five inches of rain hit Kearney and the surrounding areas on Monday night and Tuesday morning, but other areas around Kearney received as much as eight inches of rain As waters began to rise, some took action. Some had little to no time to prepare.

Residents of the lake all came together during the day on Tuesday and piled dirt all along the lake to keep the waters from rising.

“I thought we had it stopped,” resident Ron Roberts said.

At around 9 p.m. the dirt piles gave in, and in under an hour, the water rose eight feet putting the houses in danger.

“It came in so fast; it was unbelievable,” Roberts said.

Three miles to the west, 1-3 feet of water sat in the parking lots of several hotels and gas stations near Exit 275 along 2nd Avenue.

Water sits near the pumps of the Phillips 66 gas station in Kearney, Nebraska, on Wednesday July 10. Photo by Madison Zumpfe

Guests at the hotels were told evacuation was needed. As guests began to retrieve their belongings, every second became precious, as the water rose at a furious rate.

Terry Pickard, a guest from Flint, Michigan, said when he first walked outside, the water was to his shins. Making another trip to his room, Pickard found water now to his hip.

“Welcome to Nebraska from Michigan,” Pickard chuckled.

On Wednesday afternoon, many guests were wondering when they could get back into the hotel to access their belongings. As of Wednesday night, the hotels were still off limits.

Some of the guests were able to find their way out, but 300 were still without a place to go. With no hesitation, the University of Nebraska at Kearney opened up their dormitories to those displaced not only from the hotels, but from their own houses in the community. 

Airboats rescued the stranded guests. Kearney High School donated their busses to transport people across town to the dormitories. Calls began to come in asking what the university needed for supplies to house 300 extra people. Rental cars provided to try to get guests to Lincoln, so they could move on.

The estimated high was 300 people in the dormitories, but by 11 a.m. Wednesday morning, the number had dropped down to 200.

Kearney City Manager Michael Morgan was on the scene of the flooding near the hotels Wednesday afternoon along with the Kearny Police Department trying to answer questions guests may have had. 

Morgan said the city’s first priority was to get the personal belongings back to the hotel guests. Crews were close to gaining access back to the hotels on Thursday. 

“In my 15 years here, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Morgan said. “People tell me this a once in every 500 year flood.”


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