Floodwaters cover farms to west, spare North Bend
by Nathan Arneal
The first rain drops fell on Glenn Schmidt’s farm 14 miles northwest of Columbus near Platte Center Thursday evening.
“It started about 7:30 (p.m.),” Schmidt said. “That was the most rain in one night I can ever remember.”
When all was said and done, Schmidt’s rain gauge held 6.8 inches of rain. The excess water tore through the fields, soon crossing over and closing Highway 81 running north out of Columbus.
Much of the water drained into the nearby Shell Creek, which runs north of Columbus and Schuyler before joining the Platte River just east of Schuyler. It wasn’t too long before the Shell filled beyond capacity.
Friday, Eric Granger left his home four miles west of North Bend for work in Columbus.
“As I got farther west there would be country roads completely under water,” he said, “so I kept thinking we’d get hit sooner or later.”
By the time Granger came home Friday afternoon, the water had made significant progress on its journey east. Just east of Schuyler Highway 30 was down to one lane as water lapped across the other lane.
“On my drive from Schuyler to home, it was like one big lake all along the highway,” Granger said. “All it was was water.”
One mile west of Granger’s house, Chad Ruzicka was hearing reports of the approaching water early Friday evening. When the last significant flood in the area struck on June 17, 1990, if followed the same path before eventually flooding North Bend. The house where Ruzicka lives now, five miles west of North Bend, was surrounded by water in 1990 when his aunt and uncle lived there, but no water made it into the house. That information didn’t entirely put Ruzicka at ease, though.
“They were saying that some places by Schuyler were worse this time (compared to ‘90),” he said, “so we didn’t know what to expect.”
Once the wedding decorations safe, there was nothing more to do than wait and watch.
Later Friday evening, Ruzicka’s dad, Gene, called and told him he heard of a dam breaking and that a lot more water was on its way.
“We thought (the water) would probably hit here in the middle of the night,” Chad Ruzicka said, “and who wants to be sitting up watching to see if flood water is coming? So we packed up some clothes, took the cat and dropped it off at the shop and spent the night at (Havens’) mom’s house if Fremont.”
Ruzicka returned home at 6 a.m. on Saturday, prepared for the worst. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised to see there was no water around his house.
“Then I went north of the place and I could see towards the west where water the was coming,” he said.
By 11 a.m. Saturday, his house was surrounded by water, a virutal island. The water continued its trek east until it met the North Bend cut-off ditch, which runs just east of Ruzicka’s home. Chad’s cousin, Danny Ruzicka, lives less than a mile to the northeast, but his house sits on the east side of the cut-off ditch by about 40 yards.
Danny Ruzicka was more than happy to see the water’s advance stopped by the cut-off ditch and the small dike its eastern edge, but he was worried about the ditch overflowing and allowing the floodwaters into his place and then on to North Bend.
“If I saw (the dike) go, I was going to call everybody I know to get over here and help,” Danny said. “I didn’t really pack up anything, but yet I wasn’t going to stray too far from home for the simple fact that I wanted to be here in case the water came over.”
Danny saw the water come within a few inches of the top of the ditch’s eastern edge, but the water never crested it.
Granger’s house also sits just a few dozen yards on the east side of the cut-off ditch. Eric and his brother Wade took turns checking on the water level every 15 or 30 minutes and got more and more nervous as the water crept higher Saturday morning and into the afternoon. The Grangers were also making plans in case the water came over the ditch.
“We have a little bit of attic space and we were getting ready to throw things up there,” Eric Granger said. “We figured if the water came over we probably have a little bit of time to throw at least the important stuff up there.”
By Saturday evening, it looked like the water had stopped rising and the worst of it had passed. Like it initially did in 1990, the cut-off ditch did its job. However, in ‘90 the area was hit with another rain a day later, causing the ditch to overflow and sending water into North Bend.
Keeping that in mind, Chad Ruzicka watched Saturday night’s news with concern when the weather radar showed a small storm gathering north of Columbus.
“I told Michelle, ‘if it rains, we’re out of here,’” Ruzicka said.
One mile to the east, Granger also noticed the potential storm on looming on the horizon.
“We kind of quit checking (the ditch), but about 8 o’clock or so we saw lightning to the west,” Eric Granger said. “We said as soon as we start hearing rain, we’re going to start loading stuff up, because if it would’ve rained, we would have been done.”
The rainstorm dissipated before adding to the damage, and by Sunday afternoon, the water had subsided and the gravel roads around Chad Ruzicka’s place were passable once again, although the cut-off ditch remained brim full.
Ruzicka and his family farm the entire section his house sits on. He estimated that at least half of it was covered in water Saturday. Most of the ground farmed by the Ruzickas lies east of the cut-off ditch and remained safe.
“The North Bend drainage ditch saved a lot,” Chad said. “I think back in ‘90 we had something like 1,600 or 1,700 acres of crop under water.”
“At this point it’s hard to say if we’ll need to replant,” he said. “For the corn that’s up, if the water gets off quickly, it should be all right. The problem is where water sits for a couple of days, we might get drown out.”
More: See video coverage of the storm on Thursday that caused the flooding.
<<Back to archives.