July 22, 2019 3 Comments
This blog is entitled “News” and I cannot think of another event more newsworthy in Stagecoach’s 46-year history than the recent flooding in Kearney. I will get back to my normal topics about Native American jewelry in the next issue. For now, let’s talk about the flooding, how it happened, and what effects it has had on the Stagecoach and surrounding community.
When I awoke on Tuesday, July 9th, I quickly noticed that we had gotten a large rainstorm during the night. I heard reports of 8-9 inches, which I don’t think I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. This is more rainfall in a few hours then we sometimes get in an entire month. While driving to work I noticed the results of such an enormous amount of rain: standing water in many places, some minor street flooding. Beyond this, however, I didn’t think much of the rainstorm. It was time to open the Stagecoach and get to work.
When we opened our doors at 9 am all was well. We had a number of travelers and Nebraska Passport participants right off the bat. Around 10 am things started to get a little weird. Out in front of our store, we have a spillway that leads into the Kearney Canal about a block south of our location. Nearby rainfall drains into this spillway and eventually finds its way to this canal. Around 10 am I noticed that I could see water at the very top of this spillway, something I have never seen before. But what really concerned me was that the water was running away from the canal, the exact opposite of what this drainage is designed to do. It wasn’t long after this that a flurry of activity erupted outside.
Lots of cars started driving past toward the Kearney Cinema 8 movie theater, which is unusual for 10 am on a Tuesday. Soon there was a little bit of water running down the street and we saw some police cars heading that direction. Some customers in our store had parked a camper out on the street because our parking lot isn’t designed for such large vehicles. At one point the father sprinted across the parking lot and into our store yelling at his family that they needed to leave. We even had a police officer come in and tell us that waters were rising and to “do what we needed to do as business owners.” Even after all of this, it didn't really dawn on me what was about to happen. I had never seen flooding like this before and the
As the water continued to rise outside in the street, we started taking some precautionary measures. Gary began unloading our storage shed behind the building. This time of year, we keep much of our Halloween merchandise in there. We have hundreds of costumes in boxes piled on top of each other. While he started moving these boxes inside the store, I drove down the street to TSC and Orchleans to see if I could buy some sandbags. Both places had just been cleaned out by people at the hotels just south of us. As I drove back to the Stagecoach, I observed how high the water had risen in only a few minutes. It was at this point that I finally started to realize the seriousness of the situation.
As the water slowly crept up our parking lot, we decided that we needed to get our vehicles to a safer location. We drove them a couple of blocks north to the TSC parking lot and left them. I sprinted as fast as I could go back to the store and continued unloading boxes from the shed. After only a few minutes I was carrying boxes through the water. A few more minutes and I was struggling to run through water about 4 inches deep carrying these large boxes. Once we thought most of the important things were out of the shed, we started working on the inside of the Stagecoach. I was frantically trying to think of what items were most essential to save. The first item was the computer system with our Point of Sale software. This has thousands of items stored in inventory as well as important documents that we need for accounting and tax purposes. You could say that this system is the heart of our entire business and losing it would take months of work. I quickly shut the computer down, unplugged the monitor, printer, and all other cords and set it on top of the counter. A close second on the list of importance is the laptops in our office. These have our accounting programs, more tax info, my database of jewelry pictures, and much more. After our computer systems were seemingly safe we needed to worry about all of Gary’s silversmithing equipment. A few pieces of note are the fuel tanks for his torch, engraving machines, and Foredom tools. Fortunately, most of this turned out fine.
Next on the list was to protect as much merchandise as possible. We covered every counter-top space with Halloween costumes, blankets, t-shirts, and whatever else we could find. During this process, water started flowing under the doors and even seeping through the walls. While we were running around gathering up items the electricity went out. I believe the power company turned the electricity off preemptively as the water as rising. While I am very thankful for this, it seriously hampered our ability to work. Finally, we decided that we needed to evacuate the building for our own safety. Not knowing how long it would be before we would be able to return, we grabbed a laptop and a couple of other items to take with us. We were forced to go out the back door because there was so much water coming in the front and we were unable to get the doors open.
I suspect that the process of leaving the Stagecoach will haunt me for the rest of my life. Hiking north towards our vehicles through knee-high water was a dreadful experience. I remember how quiet and still it was. Here we were in the middle of this disaster and there were no people, vehicles, or signs of life anywhere near us. The sky was sunny and we were some of the last people to leave the area. We didn’t know how high the water would go or how long it would stay. None of us knew if there would be anything left to return to or if the entire building would be ruined. Unlike any other day in my memory, our livelihood was in question. The Stagecoach is a huge part of my family’s lives and this experience was heartbreaking. I think we were all in a state of shock for the rest of the day.
The next morning the waters had receded to the point where we could get back to the Stagecoach. We worked tirelessly from that point forward. The entire first day was spent pushing water out of the doors using brooms, squeegees, and mops. This was done mostly in darkness due to the lack of electricity. While we were working on this, we had electricians ripping out wiring, building inspectors, electrical inspectors, and other people checking things over. The speed at which these people got things back up and running for us was remarkable.
The electricity was returned around noon on the second day. This helped speed up our efforts immensely. Every day the Stagecoach looks a little bit better and a little closer to normal. There is still a lot of work to do but things are looking up. A professional cleaning crew came in and did a massive amount of work for us. They did a great job cleaning the floors and brought in lots of industrial fans and dehumidifiers to help dry the building out as quickly as possible. On Saturday we were able to officially reopen, despite still having merchandise and many large displays out of place. Things are coming along nicely now and most of the work left to be done involves smaller cleanup projects. Most people who stop in at this point are very surprised that we were able to get cleaned up so quickly. This is especially true compared to some of the hotels south of our location, which suffered much more extensive damage. All in all, we feel very fortunate to be back open and doing so well.
The Kearney flood did have quite a negative effect on us at the Stagecoach. Because of travelers along I-80, July is one of our busiest months of the year. Being forced to close for several days during July was very unfortunate. As I said above, in order to get back up and running so quickly we brought in a professional restoration team. While they did a fantastic job and we have no regrets bringing them in, it was still quite an expense. Not only that, but there is a significant amount of inventory and supplies that were damaged in the flood. For instance, we had a large box of costumes that we did not get picked up off the ground before the water came in. All of these costumes are ruined along with a number of other items.
While the upfront costs of cleanup, lost income, and damaged inventory is tough to swallow, the collateral costs, over time, might be even more extensive. As I mentioned earlier, many of Kearney’s hotel complexes have suffered a great deal of damage. While we had one foot of water inside the Stagecoach, some of these buildings reportedly had 4 or 5 feet. I cannot fathom the amount of work it is going to take to get these hotels operational again. The convention centers were also flooded, meaning that many of the upcoming conventions being held in Kearney may have to be canceled. All of this has an enormously negative effect on the entire hospitality industry in Kearney. It is going to impact restaurants, gas stations, tourist attractions, and many other businesses. We have already noticed some of this impact on traffic within Kearney.
Despite all of the negative effects caused by the flooding, we feel very fortunate. We are fortunate that the waters receded quickly, at least for us. When the flooding occurred we had no idea how long the water would sit there. We discussed the possibility of it staying for a week or more. This would have undoubtedly resulted in a very different situation for our building, walls, and flooring. We are also thankful for the incredible team of people that we had helping out. Three main employees worked like crazy to help us get the Stagecoach cleaned up and open again. There were also a couple of very kind friends who volunteered their time in this process. None of these people were required to be here and I never once heard a complaint from any of them. To all of these people, we cannot thank you enough.
I have heard this event in Kearney, NE being called a “hundred-year flood.” We have certainly not seen anything like this in the 46-year history of the Stagecoach. That being said, it seems like I have heard this term a lot in the last couple of years. I do have a grasp on the probability aspect of a disaster like this. In most areas, the chance of a major flood or similarly devastating event happening in any given year is very remote. However, when you multiply that remote probability by 50 or 100 years, it becomes significant. I hope and pray that with all of the flooding that Nebraska has seen in 2019, our odds will be favorable for a long time into the future. No matter what happens, our community has shown an amazing level of fellowship and a wonderful caring for others. There really is no place like Nebraska.
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