BLAIR, Neb. — It’s a little easier evacuating your home ahead of floodwaters if your best friend is with you.
Dianna Wright, 6, of Blair said Sunday that she’s “not so sad” about moving into Holling Hall on the Dana College campus because her family and her best friend, Gwyn Davis, 9, also of Blair, are with her.
Dianna, her little sister, Rose Mary, 16 months, their parents, Fred and Lorinda Wright, and grandmother, Regina Wright, had to leave their home in Long’s Trailer Court near the Blair Marina because of the rising Missouri River.
“The best thing is that I’m with my family and my friend,” Dianna said. “The people here are real good.”
Gwyn and her parents, Barb and Bruce Davis, also residents of the trailer court, were among 32 people who moved into the dormitory Saturday after hearing about housing for evacuees. The cost is $150 per month — no matter how many rooms a family needs.
To apply for living quarters on campus, call the Washington County Housing Flood Relief Hotline at 402-426-8881 or go online to www.blairnebraska.org and click on the Missouri River information button at the top of the page. Applications must be returned to the Blair City Hall or the Blair Chamber of Commerce. The dormitory has 70 rooms, laundry facilities, a small kitchen and large common room that has toys and games. Area churches are being asked to provide food for the residents at least one night per week, and at least two had already stepped up.
“Thirty years ago, I left the dorms of the University of Nebraska, and now I’m back on campus,” Bruce Davis said while standing in a purple-and-white hall that until last year echoed with the voices of young Dana College Vikings. “But we’re very appreciative of the what the city has done for the people in our situation.”
City Administrator Phil Green said Blair officials had been brainstorming ways to help flood victims for a couple of weeks when they hit upon leasing a dormitory at the former college for temporary housing. Fire inspectors approved using the building, and the city reached an agreement Thursday with the defunct school’s receiver to lease the dorm for $5,000 a month plus utilities.
Green said Blair officials felt strongly about giving flood refugees and out-of-town workers a low-cost place to stay. Green said the Washington County Board will discuss whether to help finance the relief plan at its Tuesday meeting. Blair will foot the entire bill if necessary.
“The city thought this was important enough that we go it alone if we had to,” Green said. “We couldn’t wait on anyone else because the water is already close to closing (U.S) Highway 30 into Blair. If we would have waited around, it wouldn’t have done anyone any good.”
Hours after the city got the go-ahead, about 200 area residents showed up to scrub the dormitory from top to bottom. Others dropped off mini-refrigerators or supplies.
Green said Carl Raum, the campus maintenance man and security guard, lives in Holling Hall. Raum has been busy helping the new residents adjust.
“Poor Carl has been working morning until 10 o’clock at night,” Green said. “He’s doing a tremendous job making people feel welcome.”
Harriet Waite of the Blair Chamber of Commerce said bedding, toilet paper, towels, napkins, trash bags, toys, games, paper plates and plastic utensils have been donated, but more of “just about everything” is needed. People interested in helping can go to the Washington County (Nebraska) Cares Facebook page to see what services and items they can donate.
“Everything that we’ve asked for, we’ve gotten,” Waite said. “I can’t say enough about the people of this community opening their hearts. It just makes you so proud.”
Richard and Diane Ruffcorn of rural Modale, Iowa, spent Sunday morning outfitting a dormitory room for Richard. The Ruffcorns expect their home to stay dry, but Richard was concerned about getting to his job at Cargill in Blair.
“I looked at apartments, but I didn’t want to sign a six-month lease at $600 a month,” he said. “We just couldn’t pass up this deal because if I’m not working ... there’s no paycheck.”
For now, Diane Ruffcorn will stay at home with her three children, ages 20, 18 and 17. But she wouldn’t be surprised if the entire family moves into Holling Hall.
“I graduated from Dana in 2005,” she said. “I never thought that I’d be back here for anything more than a visit.”
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