My car didn’t get the memo. As I scrambled to cover the flood Wednesday afternoon, my car sputtered and quit. I turned the key again. It coughed, struggled and died. It sounded like a dead battery, so I called AAA.
The fellow came, plunked jumper cables onto the battery and the car splashed to life, briefly. Then it balked like a defiant toddler and died. This time, it was done.
We towed the car to a repair shop. “I can’t fix it till the middle of next week,” the man there said. “I’ve got five or six cars damaged in the flood lined up ahead of you.”
As for rental cars, they’d vanished with the flood, too, snapped up by people whose vehicles were ruined. Compared to their woes, mine was as wee as a flea.
I left my car at the repair place, got a ride to work and leaped back into my exhaustive list of flood stories. So many of them raced by, like sticks and debris in floodwater.
Flooded streets. Stranded hotel guests swarming into the Salvation Army, their cars ruined. Some of them hitched rides to Grand Island hoping to find a rental car there.
Kearney residents flooded out of their houses and mobile homes.
Chain stores sold out of fans and buckets and wet/dry vacs.
Paul Younes’ flooded hotels suddenly erasing available rooms for travelers across I-80. Flooded hotels canceling wedding receptions four days away.
Police and fire and city officials closing streets and evacuating people in air boats. Stranded pets taken in by animal shelters.
On and on it went, but human kindness peeked through, too, like a little chip of rainbow fighting its way through ominous clouds.
At the Salvation Army, volunteers magically appeared. People stopped in with donations. One man hurried out to buy cases of bottled water for the crowd. “This is a good kind of busy,” one of those volunteers told me.
UNK opened dorms for the suddenly homeless. RYDE drove them to Walmart so they could get toothbrushes and clean underwear. A stranded quartet from a Baptist college in California gave an impromptu concert.
Tow truck operators worked past midnight to get cars going again. The fellow who assisted me Thursday morning had stayed up doing just that until 2:30 a.m.
Gratitude oozed, too. “I can’t believe how many people in Kearney have come together to help us,” one stranded traveler from Colorado said.
As tragedies do, this one erupted so suddenly. After a thunderstorm Monday night, Tuesday dawned clear and sunny. My neighborhood did not flood, but when I went to an interview at UNK Tuesday morning, I found employees in the Student Union shoving brooms at standing water, trying to push it outside. Water had seeped into the bottom floor overnight.
When I got to the office, I found two scribbled notes on my desk. “Call KRMC and Odessa Truck Stop/Sapp Brothers.” I leaped in and barely came up for air. A few hours later, I was in Gibbon talking to residents who were filling sandbags. The town flooded in March, and water was coming again.
Everyone has a story to tell.
I’ve been in this business for nearly 50 years. I’ve written about tornadoes, blizzards, massive power outages, deadly traffic accidents and 9/11.
One afternoon my assistant editor’s girlfriend was murdered at deadline by a former boyfriend who drove eight hours to kill her. Another time, a photographer stood in the middle of his street as a tornado roared toward him. His wife was screaming at him to get inside, but he got the photo, and he lived to tell about it.
It never gets old. The topics are always the same, but each story is as fresh as a newborn.
At the moment, my list of flood-related stories to write stretches across the prairies like tall corn. Meanwhile, my car waits in the shop. Maybe I’ll rent a mule for transportation.