Dan Douglas calls it a “Perfect Storm.”
The situation stems from 3 inches of rain and 6 or 8 inches of snow that melted on frozen ground, which left no place for all the water to go.
That combination led to flooding in Arlington and other areas.
Arlington got hit from both sides, said Douglas, the emergency manager director for Washington County.
Water from Bell Creek caused flooding on the east and south sides of town. Water from the Elkhorn River caused flooding on the west side.
An estimated 30 homes and seven businesses in Arlington had water in them at some point during the flooding. About 10 homes on the outskirts of Arlington were affected as well. Early numbers indicate a third of the flood-affected homes will be non-repairable.
The flooding also washed out a large chunk of U.S. Highway 30 creating a huge water-filled chasm on the roadway about a mile west of Arlington.
No flood-related deaths or injuries were reported, but Arlington volunteer firefighters were involved in at least four river rescues.
Flood waters also went through the Washington County Fairgrounds creating a muddy mess. And while the Two Rivers Arena was built high enough to escape the water, other fairgrounds buildings had water in them.
In addition, flood waters washed cornstalks away from fields, leaving debris about 18-inches deep on the town’s ball field.
Douglas, who became the county’s emergency manager six months ago, previously served as a volunteer assistant for Region 5-6 Emergency Management office.
In all these years, he’s not seen anything like this.
Bell Creek is a small creek with a history of flooding, but never to this degree. The creek is fed from tributaries to the north.
“When we get a rain up north, it’s a day or two before you see it work its way through here,” he said.
That was before the perfect storm.
Bell Creek came out of its banks on March 13. Usually, flooding occurs in farm fields before the river recedes into its channel.
This time, water came into the fields and went onto First and Second streets in Arlington. It crossed Highway 30, causing a roadway closure, before affecting homes on the south side of the highway.
“We’ve had Bell Creek water levels from 10 inches up to 36 inches in houses or businesses,” Douglas said.
Residents living on First and Second streets self-evacuated. Firefighters advised residents living south of Highway 30 to evacuate.
The Elkhorn River, which runs north and south, came out of its banks on the west side of Arlington on March 14. By that night, water had come over a levee, flooding the town from the west.
Douglas said the only way in and out of town was County Road 9 to the north, which took people to Nebraska Highway 91.
Most people self-evacuated from the Elkhorn River area on Thursday.
And the Elkhorn flowed on Highway 30 into the west part of Arlington, reaching Sixth Street — halfway across town from the river.
“Casey’s General Store was an island,” he said.
Water levels at the Washington County Fairgrounds were anywhere from 12 to 40-some inches.
The Two Rivers Arena, which is a newer building, was built to 500-year flood specification and was within 8 inches of having water in it.
“That was the only building (on the fairgrounds) that didn’t get water in it,” he said.
Douglas isn’t certain how many acres of farm ground in the area were affected. He said most townspeople displaced by flooding found family to stay with in other communities.
Eventually, the waters began to recede.
“At some point, the Bell Creek went down far enough that Highway 30, between Arlington and Blair was back open,” Douglas said.
Once that happened, Union Pacific had personnel rebuilding railroad tracks washed out between Arlington and Fremont. They left Wednesday.
Douglas said the Elkhorn River went down on March 17 — enough for six school buses to be brought out of the bus barn.
“The only reason we were able to do it is because the ground was frozen that morning so they could drive the buses out,” he added.
The water hadn’t risen high enough to damage the buses.
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But damage to highways was exposed as flood waters receded.
A large portion of Highway 30, about 1 mile west of the Elkhorn River Bridge, has been eaten away.
“There is a complete washout of the highway,” Douglas said. “It’s probably 50 feet wide and, the last time I was out there, it was at least a 30-foot crater.”
A wide expanse of muddy water flowed in between the broken-off sections of highway on Wednesday. Shoulders of the highway have been undermined as well.
And whereas a trip from Fremont to Arlington once took about 10 minutes, it now takes more than 30 as motorists travel up U.S. 275 to Nebraska Highway 36 to Highway 31 and then back to Highway 30, entering Arlington from the east.
That’s without heavy traffic.
“Highway 91, between Fontanelle and Nickerson, is in worse shape than Highway 30,” Douglas said. “There’s large segments gone, half a lane gone in multiple spots, east of the Elkhorn River Bridge at Nickerson.”
Douglas doesn’t know how long it will take to repair it.
Dodge Street, the main expressway between Omaha and Fremont, is damaged so that will be a priority, he said.
Highway 30, which crosses the country, is an alternate roadway to Interstate 80.
“I would think it would be on the priority list, but the ground’s going to have to dry out,” Douglas noted. “The State Department of Roads will have to re-engineer it all, get compaction — get the soil strong enough to even hold the road again — and at that point, you’re building a new road.”
Weather again plays a role, depending on how much rain will fall in the future and how quickly the ground will dry out.
Douglas doesn’t know what it will cost to repair the highways.
He noted the work that will be involved in personal property repair.
The village of Arlington has its own flood plain district.
“They’ve been out doing property assessments. FEMA is in Washington County doing assessments as well. From the Presidential declaration, we did get some emergency public assistance. The individual assistance is potential at this point. You’ve got to meet a certain dollar threshold for all of those to actually kick in,” he said.
Douglas estimates a third of the homes in Arlington will have too much damage to be repaired. These include older, smaller homes. Some are mobile homes.
There is an inspection threshold, he added. Based on their location on the FEMA flood plain maps, homes that are more than 50 percent damaged will not be able to be rebuilt.
Some homes, if they are rebuilt, will need to be brought up to the latest flood plain map regulations. The habitable area of the house would have to be a foot above the latest flood plain map.
It’s undetermined how many homes will either need to be raised or will get knocked down.
And it will be a matter of time before the repairable homes can be cleaned up and refurbished.
Inspections are ongoing and will be verified.
Thousands of inspections are planned for Fremont and other communities.
Contractors, plumbers, electricians, heating and air conditioning specialists will be busy.
“It could be a long process to get things rebuilt,” he said.
Costs for building materials could go up.
“When you see a hurricane hit the South, (the cost of) building materials rise across the entire country,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll see a supply and demand issue here — whether it’s furnace or windows or drywall. There was a lot of damaged drywall and carpet.”
Douglas stresses the importance of using licensed contractors who are registered with the municipality with which they’re working.
“There will be people coming into all the flooded areas looking for business,” he said. “Some may not be as genuine as they appear. You usually don’t do large down payments upfront.”
Arlington is in a recovery mode, he said.
The village has brought in dumpsters for its citizens to use. A fraternity group began cleaning up the ballfields. Depending on the weather, a church group was set to continue to clean the ballfields which are knee-deep in cornstalks washed in from the fields.
In the meantime, area residents affected by flooding can self-register at disasterassistance.gov and FEMA will contact them to see they need additional assistance.
The American Red Cross dropped off cleanup kits at the village clerk’s office in Arlington and old Superfoods in Blair, which has been made into a donation warehouse.