March 15, 2019, 12:56 p.m.
Flooding and blizzard conditions have battered much of the state as we approach the start of spring. Residents near Nebraska’s "Irish capital" of O’Neill received a heavy dose of rain and ice right in the middle of their normally warm St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
The annual weeklong celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in O’Neill, Nebraska, has looked quite different this year, as the scheduled shamrock painting in the town center was replaced Wednesday with a life-saving flood rescue effort by the fire department.
With the Niobrara River to the north facing a compromised dam and the Elkhorn River to the southeast cresting half a foot above flood stage, residents of O’Neill are thankful the town center is relatively dry.
“Right now, right here in town in O’Neill, we’re OK," said Lauri Havranek, president and CEO of O'Neill's Chamber of Commerce. "The Elkhorn River south of town is all over the place but it hasn’t affected right in town yet, and we’re hoping that it won’t.”
Havranek said in anticipation of bad weather, popular St. Patrick’s Day festivities like the Mr. Irish Pageant and the painting of the shamrock occurred last Sunday and Monday. Despite the weather, she said larger events like the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday are still right on schedule.
“The show tonight, the fun run, the Irish dancers, the parade, the donkey basketball – that stuff, as of right now, will go ahead as scheduled," Havranek said. "But anything could change at any time.”
The attendance to the Saturday parade traditionally doubles the 4,000-strong population of O’Neill, and Havranek said she understands this year may see a significant drop due to statewide flooding.
Still, she hopes the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations can help provide some relief from the weather and damages for those who attend.
“We’re going to try to give people maybe a couple hours of smiles amidst all the adversity and the heartbreak that is happening throughout the area and our state," Havranek said. "We’re going to keep up with tradition, we’d reschedule if we could, and we’ll go ahead for those that can be here and hopefully we can give someone something to smile about for a couple hours."