Some say people are at their best when things are at their worst, and the response to flooding throughout eastern Nebraska and western Iowa has supported that belief.

A church in Papillion this week caravaned goods to a church in Waterloo that is serving as a shelter and relief station. “Is this cool?” Pastor Mike Bitter of the Waterloo church said. It was a statement, not a question.

“I’m lovin’ this,” he said.

The volunteer efforts this week and last have been small and large, coordinated and spontaneous. In Plattsmouth, a call for volunteers Saturday brought out far more than were needed to place sandbags across a worrisome spot near the flooded Missouri River. The Millard-based Skyhawk Flying Club flew people out of flood-locked Fremont over the weekend.

In Niobrara in northeast Nebraska, citizens pitched in to clean up some of the slop caused by flooding and fish out swamped golf carts, Niobrara Village Chairman Jody Stark said. Stark said no request was made. “They just help.”

The University of Nebraska at Omaha men’s soccer team plans to collect goods Thursday and Friday at Baxter Arena for the Salvation Army, a UNO spokesman said. Hy-Vee in Fremont has helped the American Red Cross provide three meals a day to several shelters in the Fremont area housing at least 400 people.

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Wildewood Christian Church of Papillion used volunteers and at least six vehicles to move a batch of items — hundreds of pounds of them — to Christian Church of Waterloo. The items included plastic bags full of clothing, cans of food, jugs of bleach, bags of pet food, blankets, towels and bottles of water.

Wildewood Pastor Ron Wymer said his church over the weekend requested flood-relief items from the greater Papillion community. The citizens responded. “We got more than we thought we might,” Wymer said.

So the Wildewood members packed their vehicles with the goods and drove the 20-plus miles to Waterloo, west of Omaha. Wildewood and the Waterloo house of worship are partner churches.

Waterloo is where Bitter and his wife, Ruth, had spent five days and four nights with more to come. The Council Bluffs couple opened their church last Friday to whatever the water-surrounded community — and anyone else — needed. Some people needed supplies, some needed meals, some needed a place to stay. At least outwardly, the couple beamed with a sense of service and adventure. They jokingly referred to their shelter as a resort.

Among the Wildewood volunteers, Tonya Barnes, Angelia Nix and Lyndsay Wiley got things semi-organized in a church room. “I feel good about it,” said Wiley of Bennington. “I feel really good about it.”

The things had barely been placed into three rooms when Randell Street, who lives with his family in the Waterloo area, came into the church. Street said his basement and yard are deluged. He said his wife and their four children tore out over the weekend to stay with his wife’s mother in Kansas.

Street, a tall, spindly 33-year-old, tried to pump water out of his basement. He stopped at the church for toilet paper, bleach, dish soap and laundry soap. “My buddy out at King Lake — he lost everything,” Street said. “I’m just happy I got my family out.”

Street works in warm months as a commercial mower and campfire wood salesman. In cold months, he sells firewood. “It keeps us goin’,” said Street, whose hair was wrapped in a bandana. Unfortunately, he said, a lot of waterlogged wood sat on his property.

Bitter said a total of about 15 people had spent one or more nights in their church. Law enforcement dropped off some of them after they had gotten stuck on flooded roads. “It was kind of a smattering of people,” Bitter said.

Omaha marketing consultant and chef Carrie Messinger hustled about the church kitchen. She heard through a friend about the relief work in Waterloo and volunteered to cook there for a few days. Her plan included homemade cinnamon rolls, chili, tacos, roasted chicken and mashed potatoes.

When Street heard about dinner, he said he hoped to be back. Chili sounded great.

Floods devastate Nebraska, Iowa in March 2019

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People who populate the towns and small lake communities along the Platte River west and south of Omaha were taking stock of their homes and futures this week. Some of the properties are second homes or summer getaways, but just as many are full-time residences, from small mobile homes to comfortable villas.

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After drenching rains Tuesday and heavy snow on Wednesday, Gibbon’s low spots became apparent, first as water filled streets to the curb, and later on Thursday and Friday as the water spilled into lawns and driveways before lapping at foundations. “I’ve never seen so much water, or the force and damage it can do in a short time,” firefighter Jamey Rome said.

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Thirty buildings, including the 55th Wing headquarters and the two major aircraft maintenance facilities, had been flooded with up to 8 feet of water, and 30 more structures damaged. About 3,000 feet of the base’s 11,700-foot runway was submerged. No one, though, had been injured.

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