Caranda Gerke serves in combat search and rescue in the United States Air Force and is stationed in Las Vegas.
But on Thursday morning, the North Bend Central High School graduate was in her hometown, helping with a massive cleanup effort after flood waters inundated the city of about 1,270, west of Fremont.
“The entire town was under water. Many houses were high enough it didn’t get to those, but every street in town was flooded. The entire town was in the direct path of this flood,” said Nathan Arneal, owner and publisher of the North Bend Eagle newspaper, now serving as public information officer.
North Bend’s flooding occurred when a levee at a cutoff ditch 3 miles west of the city breached during the night between March 14 and 15.
Normally, the cutoff ditch does a good job of protecting the city during heavy rains, diverting the water to the Platte River. But this time, it was overwhelmed.
And it was so full that water began running over the edges, eroding the dike.
“I think the actual breach now is 300 to 400 feet wide,” Arneal said.
Flood waters affected the town’s Main Street.
It’s hard to say how high the water was at its peak, but judging by water lines in the downtown North Bend Eagle office, Arneal estimates the water was 7 inches deep.
Water in the street, itself, would have been much lower than that.
But on Saturday afternoon — past the peak of the flood — water was 18 inches deep in the gutter on Main Street.
Many houses and businesses were affected.
“One of our city officials estimated about a third of houses were breached in some way. I’ve heard pretty much everyone with a basement — the basement was flooded,” Arneal said.
There are places where the water level didn’t get up to houses, but ground water came up.
“I heard my mom’s house is pretty bad so I came here to be moral support and also manpower and to help the community,” Gerke said, as she guided traffic on the extra-wide Locust Street near North Bend’s city park and pool.
Here, people have been bringing trailer loads of ruined household items to drop off at the designated trash site — which extends from Locust Street around the corner to east 11th Street.
The trash piles have been divided into categories.
These categories are: Zone 1—Branches, trees and brush waste: Zone 2—Household and commercial waste and construction and demolition debris; Zone 3—Household hazardous wastes; Zone 4—Asbestos: Zone 5A—Oils and batteries; Zone 5B—Tires; and Zone 5C—Metals and appliances.
High school students have been loading and unloading trailers full of curbside garbage, said volunteer Mary Shanahan.
Students tossed all sorts of items onto an ever-growing mountain of garbage that included chairs, smashed plastic containers and a sewing machine.
Individuals came in smaller vehicles to add their goods to the pile. At one point, a woman threw a large, black-framed — but unbroken — mirror into muddy water next to the pile.
The first day Gerke was in North Bend, she helped unload two houses of flood-ruined goods. She helped clean two basements.
She and Jeff Woita, another NBC grad, then went around town, picking up trailer loads of people’s belongings that had become trash. The trailer hauled away the ruined items for people who didn’t own pickup trucks that could have transported items to the site. Near the site is a large semi-trailer, which will be used to haul the trash away. The trash will need to be photographed and weighed for the town to receive federal funds to offset the cost of trash removal, Arneal said.
Shanahan said North Bend City Councilman Bart Bosco, acting Mayor Rod Scott and City Clerk Theresa and Bruce Busse helped organize the dump site. Arneal said the dump site will be open until April 7.
On Thursday morning, Gerke and Shanahan continued to direct traffic through the dump site area.
Did Gerke ever think she’d be doing something like this in her hometown?
No. But Gerke said her leadership let her go, because they saw Facebook posts of their friends who perform the same types of tasks in this area, rescuing people via helicopter.
“This is bad,” they told her of the Nebraska flooding. “You need to go home.”