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Nebraska's Small Communities Are In Recovery Mode As They Cope With Massive Flooding


Floods have killed three people across the Midwest and damaged hundreds of homes. In Nebraska, the flooding has been called historic. Even parts of the U.S. Strategic Command base that oversees nuclear forces are swamped. The town of Peru, Neb., is one of many small communities that have been submerged in water. Fred Knapp of NET News paid a visit.


FRED KNAPP, BYLINE: It's an otherwise peaceful Monday morning in the old river town of Peru. The birds are chirping as a small plane passes overhead. But down on the ground, at the foot of the main street, there's something very much out of place - the Missouri River. Robert Dean's house is down here, and he was outside on Saturday when an Army Corps of Engineers helicopter flew overhead.

ROBERT DEAN: The gunner in the back of the chopper, he dropped a note in a water bottle. And we picked it up. And it said two more levees broke north. Get out. And within the hour, we all had to evacuate.

KNAPP: Dean's lucky. The water stopped just short of his house. But about a dozen other homes in this town of about 900 were flooded, as were acres and acres of the surrounding farmland. Luckily, there were no fatalities, although there were elsewhere in the state as rivers like the Missouri and the Platte spilled out of their banks. Now, like many flood-struck communities across the region, Peru is in recovery mode.


KNAPP: This morning, the National Guard pulled into town carrying drinking water because Peru's water treatment plant down by the river was flooded. And its water tower only has about a two day supply. Residents are being told to boil even that water. Before the guard got here, Tim Potter was helping unload water from a church in a nearby town.

TIM POTTER: It's a godsend when, you know, all the people come out of the woodwork whenever they're coming to help, you know. It's awesome.

KNAPP: Jason Hogue is with Peru State College and said some of the students helped rescue residents.

JASON HOGUE: We've had a chance for our students to volunteer to help the community and fill sandbags and help folks move out of houses. They're going to be displaced. And it's been sad in the community. And there's been some hardship. But there's been a lot of good news and a lot of community togetherness.

KNAPP: Peru's troubles are replicated across the state and part of a much larger picture across the Midwest following a blizzard and torrential rains falling on already soaked and frozen ground. The governors of Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin have declared states of emergency to deal with what Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts calls an historic event.

PETE RICKETTS: This is probably the worst flooding experience we've experienced in at least 50 years and one of the worst, if not the worst, natural disaster we've had in our state.

KNAPP: Longtime Peru resident Tim Potter agrees.

POTTER: This is my hometown. And I've never seen it get this high, never. You know, them levees only hold so much, you know. That river's angry.

KNAPP: But many here in Peru seem to be taking this flooding in stride. Hal Eltisite came downtown to pick up some drinking water.

HAL ELTISITE: I'm an old guy. And I can remember not having water in the house when I grew up. That was just the way it was when we grew up, no water running in the house 70 years ago.

H. ELTISITE: Eltisite's wife, Frances, exhibits some Midwest stoicism in dealing with this flood.

FRANCES ELTISITE: It's no one's fault when you get rain, snow and flooding. It just happens. So then you have to go on with that.

KNAPP: That's an attitude lots of people across the Midwest will be drawing on for weeks and likely months to come. For NPR News, I'm Fred Knapp in Peru, Neb.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we say that Jason Hogue of Peru State College credited students with helping to rescue residents. He actually credited students with assisting residents, not rescuing them.]

(SOUNDBITE OF RACHEL ZEFFIRA'S "THE DESERTERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 20, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this report, we say that Jason Hogue of Peru State College credited students with helping to rescue residents. He actually credited students with assisting residents, not rescuing them.