FREMONT, Neb. — What to do when your city is an island that is flooding?
Put on rubber boots, for starters. Then get to work.
This was the ethos here on Saturday as residents pitched in. Didn’t matter whether they lived in dry houses or wet ones, whether they were being paid or had volunteered, whether they were young or old, whether they were a bank president or a meat-cutter.
When the Elkhorn River marooned the city on one side and the Platte cut off access, roaring into it on the other, the people of Fremont were all in the same position of being stuck. And they were of a united spirit in wanting to do something about that.
No one seemed to embody this more than a weary couple who showed up at a Sinclair Dino Mart late Saturday afternoon.
Doris and Marshall Stankey looked bone tired. They had made room in their two-bedroom home for Marshall’s brother and other family members who had been evacuated. They bought an extra mattress, pillows, groceries and clothes. And Marshall, who had been helping in a heroic volunteer sandbagging effort — city officials said they didn’t have near the staff to do it — was getting called back to help some more.
He was glad to. The parade of helpers earlier had inspired him. And he was undaunted by the fact that on top of everything else, they had no electricity at home.
“I got some charcoal,” he said.
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Fremont might have been an island, cut off from the rest of Nebraska by floodwaters. But the way neighbors came together in stalwart shoulder-shrugging humility — What else were they going to do? — was impressive.
Hy-Vee deli cooks worked around the clock in coordination with the American Red Cross to feed the stranded. By 6 p.m., the number of sheltered people had grown to 1,100 with 200 more coming from Snyder, Nebraska.
Fremont Public Schools teachers eagerly showed up at the middle school, where donations were piled high on tables. Cots had been airlifted in and filled the gym. A retired Spanish teacher was translating for those who needed it.
Methodist Fremont Health employees were pulling extra shifts. One nurse, who lives in Blair, Nebraska, booked herself a hotel room just to be available.
Her goodwill was being returned by the hospital, which had arranged a flight to Lincoln for her and two nurses who live in Lincoln and Elkhorn.
The only way out of town was through the air.
Fremont Municipal Airport was a scene of human generosity. A Lincoln-based pilot on a charitable “Angel Flight” was ferrying three employees from the WholeStone Farms plant (formerly a Hormel plant) to Omaha.
All three meat cutters had children waiting for them in Omaha, and they were desperate to get home.
“I’m a single dad,” Victor Dimayuga said.
The volunteer sandbaggers trying to channel floodwater Saturday calmly went about the heavy, Sisyphean-like labor. Too many pickups to count carted the heavy sand wrapped in plastic and burlap and then, assembly-line style, hand-by-hand, the bags were bricked together.
“As long as we can help other people,” Adam Hunnel said, “that’s what we’re doing.”
The work looked hard, but 11-year-old Jonathan Linares pulled his weight.
He was about as big as a sandbag or two, a notion that did not sit well with Jonathan.
Instead, as if to prove his might, just like the city itself, the boy squeezed himself into the line. And lifted.