It started out as the usual hotel breakfast.

Sure there was water in the street outside the La Quinta Hotel on Tuesday morning in Kearney after a heavy night’s rain.

“Nobody seemed really concerned,” said Steven Jones, whose family was starting their final day of vacation before heading home to the Kansas City area. “We were eating breakfast and talking about the water — we didn’t have a clue.”

Before the morning was over, the Jones family would find themselves stranded multiple times as flash flooding swept through south-central Nebraska. The heavy rains have been described as a one-in-500-year event.

Jones would have to walk his family about a quarter of a mile through murky water that in some places was 18 inches deep to get them loaded in their van. Their route to Interstate 80 would be blocked by stranded vehicles. The school bus that came to fetch them and others would stall out. Eventually they would be boated to safety.

“It was one of those things where you can’t make this stuff up,” he said. “One thing went wrong and then everything went wrong.”

An estimated 3 inches to 6 inches of rain fell across south-central Nebraska on Monday night into Tuesday, with the highest report approaching 9 inches — 8.88 inches at Loomis. Families and motorists became stranded, others fled to shelter and customers at Kearney hotels — like the Joneses — were evacuated by boat and heavy equipment.

“It’s an incredible amount of rain on ground that is already saturated,” said Aaron Mangels, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Hastings.

With more rain on the way Tuesday night and the ground too saturated for rivers to drain quickly, flooding is expected to continue in some areas into the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

Flooding in Kearney was caused largely by Turkey Creek. Along the Wood River, communities like Gibbon and Alda faced a major flood fight this week. The Blue and Platte Rivers also were expected to flood in central Nebraska. By the time the surge of rain runoff reaches eastern Nebraska, the Platte will be up sharply, but not at flood stage, according to weather service forecasts.

Flooding swallowed a golf course in Cozad, closed a truck stop off I-80 near Odessa and displaced families in Lexington who sought shelter at the local high school.

In parts of Kearney, water reached 4 feet deep on Tuesday, said Darrin Lewis, the emergency management director for Buffalo County. Some buildings at the University of Nebraska at Kearney took on a minor amount of water, but no serious damage occurred there, said Todd Gottula, UNK spokesman.

UNK opened two residence halls to hotel customers, including the Joneses, and local residents. At 9 p.m., about 260 people filled the halls.

“Kearney as a community right now is scrambling,” Gottula said. “The damage is greater than people (outside Kearney) realize, more people are displaced than people realize.”

The Kearney Area Community Foundation has set up a disaster relief fund at

South and west of Kearney, the cities of Lexington, Cozad and Holdrege also were dealing with flooding.

Cozad officials were asking residents to hold off on flushing toilets or taking showers after the sewer system was overrun with rainwater. The American Red Cross was setting up a temporary shelter at Lexington High School.

Residents in Gibbon, east of Kearney, were sandbagging homes and businesses amid warnings that the Wood River would reach record levels overnight Tuesday — a few inches higher than occurred in the historic floods in March.

Beginning Wednesday, an extended dry spell is forecast, said Shawn Rossi of the weather service. “A couple of days of sunshine and warmer temperatures will do wonders,” he said.

The World-Herald News Service and World-Herald staff writers Bob Glissmann and Jessica Wade contributed to this report.

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