Helicopters, Airboats Rescue People From Flood

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March 15, 2019, 6:36 p.m.

Airboats and helicopters are being used to rescue people and pets from widespread flooding in Nebraska.

On a muddy roadside near Fremont, Nebraska Friday morning, Randi Richard kept an anxious eye on the cabin, maybe a hundred yards away, where her father Pete Peterson was trapped. In place of the driveway usually used to reach the cabin was the Platte River. “I didn’t find out until about a quarter to six this morning that he was trapped inside the house,” Richard said.

Peterson, 71, had his cell phone, and Randi said he was doing okay. “Yes I have spoken to him. He’s actually sitting on his chair watching tv with two inches of water flowing through his house right now,” she said, alternately laughing and crying.

After a couple of hours, a truck arrived pulling a trailer loaded with an airboat Randi had called for. Fifteen minutes later, Peterson was safe on shore. He was mostly concerned about his five cats. “You’re going to take ‘em for a while, right?” he asked. “Yeah…we’ll get ‘em all warmed up,” Richard assured him.

“You want another cigarette, Daddy?” she asked. Peterson declined. “Thanks, kiddo,” he said. “You’re welcome Daddy – love you too,” she said, as they parted.

A couple miles away, in Inglewood, south of Fremont, water began coming over highway 77. On the road, a Fremont police officer directed people how to proceed, as others worked on blocking off any more traffic. “Just drive slow,” the officer advised. “Take the middle, don’t go to the edges and just take the middle and follow the cars in front of you, okay? Just don’t stop.”

That road closure was one of many throughout the state. At a Friday afternoon news conference at the Millard Airport, Gov. Pete Ricketts described what he’d seen flying around. “What we’ve seen is a tremendous amount of flooding, and a tremendous amount of water. This may be the most widespread flooding devastation that we’ve had in our state in the last half century,” he said.

Major General John Bohac of the Nebraska National Guard said the Guard had already rescued 37 people and seven pets, using three helicopters. We’re putting a soldier on a hoist and dropping them into an area often made more complex by trees and utility wires, so these are dangerous things that are happening,” he said. Flying around Friday, Bohac said he saw a helicopter with a hoist lifting three people from the roof of a house that was completely surrounded with no way to get out.

That’s not the case yet for people in an area officials are worried may be the next to be hit, along the Missouri River south from Plattsmouth. Ricketts repeated that if there’s water over the road, people should stay put. But if they have to move, like for a medical emergency, they should go while they can. “If you’re one of those folks in one of those communities that you know that’s going to be a problem, now would be a good time to move,” he said.