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Fremont lineworkers assist in aftermath of Omaha storm
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Fremont lineworkers assist in aftermath of Omaha storm

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During a heavy storm in the Omaha metropolitan area earlier this month, Fremont Electrical Distribution Superintendent Mike Royuk said he kept expecting a call from the Omaha Public Power District.

“And then that same morning, OPPD called me around 6 o’clock in the morning and said to pretty much send everything we could spare,” he said.

To assist with damages from the 90 mph winds seen on the night of July 9, Fremont sent six lineworkers to Omaha to work throughout the weekend.

While Fremont saw a handful of power outages that night, Royuk said it was nothing compared to Omaha, which had more than 180,000 households without power.

As many Nebraska cities and utilities have mutual aid agreements for these instances, Royuk said Fremont has helped out others before, as well as received help of their own.

“One time, we called Grand Island because they’re pretty close and they sent us a couple of crews,” he said. “And then we called Grand Island the next storm we had, and they had about the same amount of damage as we did, so I ended up calling Hastings and they sent a crew to help us out for an ice storm.”

In the early morning after the storm, Royuk went through his call list and ended up getting Kent Deming, Dillon Hanson, Conner Jenkins, Jim Jorgensen, Chris McManus and Brad Wentz to help out OPPD.

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“I sent two three-man crews with a pickup, a digger and a bucket truck each,” he said. “And we all met at the shop at 7 in the morning and they went down there.”

The six lineworkers spent all day Saturday and Sunday assisting in clearing trees off of power lines and setting poles.

“The trees had blown over and kicked lines and power poles down, so for the most part, we worked on that stuff,” Royuk said. “And when they start larger groups of people out, sometimes you can set one pole and get 1,200 people back on.”

Although Fremont was too busy to send any more workers after the initial support, Royuk said he sent a contracted tree crew to help clear the power lines last week.

“They had a lot of linemen coming in from other areas and needed some more tree trimmers than linemen at that point,” he said. “And they wanted them to run our backyard equipment, so I said, ‘Well, I can send a crew down that does that for a living for us.’”

All in all, Royuk said he was proud of Fremont’s lineworkers stepping up to the task and was glad to help out Omaha in a time of need.

“Everything went really well, and I really appreciate the help we get from other communities, as I’m sure they appreciate the help from us,” he said. “It’s just a group effort.”

March of 2019 was just the start of what will be a years-long struggle to repair and rebuild livelihoods along major Midwest river systems. A massive storm drove river levels higher and higher in mid-March until hundreds of levees across the Missouri, Mississippi and Arkansas River basins failed. Then came the record rains.The Army Corps of Engineers estimated damage along the Missouri and Platte Rivers alone caused more than $1 billion in damage. The floods of 2019 punched so many holes in the river levee system, just the initial fixes aren't expected to be finished until late 2021. The Corps is now racing to patch as many holes as quickly as possible, but farmers, homeowners, even entire towns are still vulnerable as the 2021 wet season ramps up.The U.S. levee system is a true mishmash protecting millions of people and trillions of dollars of property and infrastructure near rivers. Much of it was built up following the Great Depression with no one agency charged with maintaining it. Some levees the federal government built, but the vast majority are built and maintained by locals. That makes for a massive range in the quality of levees, all of them expected to hold up for the safety of others.Based on data analysis of the National Levee Database, U.S. levees currently protect 19.5 million people, 5.5 million structures and $2.5 trillion in property value.It's an old, incredibly complex system facing a new reality: It wasn't built for floods like this. Experts agree wet seasons that are becoming more and more severe due to climate change will continuously challenge and damage one of the largest infrastructure systems in the country.

Stamford firefighters battled crumbling ice and a winter storm to rescue two people trapped after a truck broke through and sank in the frigid waters beneath.

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