It was their little slice of heaven.
Steve and Barb Pierce’s house and half acre of land two miles east of Fremont, Nebraska, was a place they’d prayed for, worked for and saved for during 29 years of marriage.
But now, after the mid-March flood, they hardly recognize it. And soon, their beloved home will be rubble.
The acreage located, just over a mile from the Elkhorn River, was devastated by the historic flood that damaged more than 2,000 homes in Nebraska.
The Pierces, like many other Nebraskans, were caught off guard.
On that Thursday, Barb Pierce, business director at the Greater Fremont Development Council, was working from home.
“My daughter from Omaha called and was really nervous about it,” Barb said. “She said she just had a terrible feeling about this and thought I should leave.”
Her son called later in the afternoon with the same worry, but Barb assured both she’d be fine.
Then she got a call from her brother, who told her the Elkhorn River had reached 11 feet 61 inches and wouldn’t crest until it was five feet higher.
The Pierce’s door sat at the 11.66 mark. That’s when she decided to leave.
Barb quickly packed overnight bag for her and her husband, Steve, who was stuck at work near Scribner.
As Barb stepped outside with the family’s dog, Bear, in tow, she saw that her husband’s truck was surrounded by water so she jumped inside and sped away, leaving behind family possessions in the home and a 2015 Cruise she bought not three months before.
In the days that followed, the couple and their 21-year-old daughter, were unable to return to home. But someone shared with them an aerial photograph of the area, which showed their built-on porch, hot tub landing and campfire pit underwater.
“It was heartbreaking,” Steve said.
Four days later, when they could return home, they had to park their car on the edge of the highway and walk a quarter of a mile on the rutted, gravel road to reach the spilt-level house.
There, they saw the main level of the house standing in almost two feet of water.
“I knew it was probably pretty deep on the inside,” Steve said.
The six feet of water in the lower level ruined belongings, drywall and carpet.
The cleanup began almost immediately. Family, friends and co-workers rallied around the family to salvage what they could and throw out what they couldn’t.
Almost three days later, when the initial cleanup was complete, a bigger problem had surfaced: the home’s foundation had cracked. The Pierces now had to decide whether to try to repair it or bulldoze the home and rebuild.
Steve and Barb’s oldest daughter, Aly McClain, was there every step of the way, watching her parent’s dream home slip out of their reach.
“It gave me a physical reaction just knowing that they’d worked so hard for this house and on this house,” she said. “They truly did create a little slice of heaven.”
In the days following the flood, the Pierces kept busy, pouring over financial records with advisers, before finally deciding they’d try to rebuild – if they can swing it financially.
“The city inspector red-tagged the home, [so] it appears the cost to fix it is more than it’s worth,” Barb said. “It’s probably better to burn it down and start over.”
The next days, weeks and months will be busy for the family, as they make difficult decisions that may have big implications. While they want to rebuild their piece of heaven, for now, they are thankful for what they do have.
“These are things,” Steve said. “And the most important things that matter most to me are my family and my animals. So as long as they’re out, the other stuff is just stuff.”