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.
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People watch from the Huron Street bridge as water from Willow Creek flows just under bridge in Missouri Valley, Iowa on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.
The junction of Highway 275 and Highway 91 is flooded on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 just north of Scribner, Nebraska.
Cody Stump walks through a flooded street in Hooper, Nebraska, on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.
High water rolls through a street in Hooper, Nebraska, on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.
High water floods a street in Hooper, Nebraska, near a trailer park on March 13.
High water floods a street in Hooper, Nebraska, near an old bank building on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.
Standing water from melting snow and rain reflects the evening sky as a truck travels north on Highway 275 near Fremont, Nebraska, on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.
Crews from the Ashland, Mead and Yutan Fire and Rescue assist with evacuating the final residents in Ashland, Nebraska om Thursday, March 14, 2019.
Crews from the Ashland, Mead and Yutan Fire and Rescue assist with evacuating the final residents in Ashland, Nebraska Thursday, March 14, 2019.
Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Keith Bell surveys the water levels as floodwaters continue to rise near Salt Creek in Ashland, Nebraska, Thursday, March 14, 2019.
Sean Hanger, of Ashland and his son Aiden, navigate the floodwaters which continue to rise near Jack Anderson Ball Park in Ashland, Nebraska, Thursday, March 14, 2019.
Floodwaters continue to rise as mailboxes are consumed near Furnas Street and N. 15th Street in Ashland, Nebraska, Thursday, March 14, 2019.
Residents are rescued from a flooded area near Missouri Valley, Iowa on Thursday March 14, 2019.
Jenna Muntz stands behind a row of sandbags as she takes a photo of the rising floodwaters in Cedar Creek, Nebraska on Thursday, March 14, 2019.
A semitrailer truck that tried crossing Bell Creek in Arlington, Nebraska, was swept off the road by fast moving floodwaters.
Both Iowa and Nebraska were hit hard by flooding earlier this year and are in need of the disaster aid. Bell Creek, on the east side of Arlington, Nebraska flooded parts of the town on Thursday, March 14.
Blake Japp pulls his remote control truck out of the water while playing in the shallow floodwaters of Bell Creek on Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Arlington, Nebraska.
Bell Creek, on the east side of Arlington, Nebraska flooded parts of the town on March 14.
People navigate over giant chunks of ice that were thrown by floodwaters near River Resort in Yutan, Neb Thursday March 14, 2019.
A flooded home near Mosquito Creek in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Thursday, March 14, 2019.
Two corn cobs float in floodwaters near Mosquito Creek in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Thursday, March 14, 2019.
A Blackhawk helicopter hovers over Waterloo on Friday March 15.
A cow makes his way through floodwaters near Columbus, Nebraska on Friday, March 15, 2019.
A house is surrounded by floodwaters near Waterloo, Nebraska on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Floodwaters run through the town of Rogers, Nebraska on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Highway 75's northbound lane is closed due to flooding near MerrittÕs Beach RV Park on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Cars drive drive across a flooded Platte River on Highway 50 just north of Louisville on Friday, March 15.
Water covers a road near Valley, Nebraska on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Brent Schwindt of Norfolk, Nebraska, holds his son Paul, 4 months, as his wife Lacey Hansen sleeps on a blow up mattress at Lutheran High Northeast on Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Norfolk. The school was being used as an evacuation shelter for people affected by flooding in the area.
Motorists are forced to turn around as West Maple Road west of 216th Street is closed as floodwaters rise over the road near the Elkhorn River in Elkhorn, Nebraska, Friday, March 15, 2019.
A crowd of people gather to overlook the floodwaters which continue to rise along the Missouri River in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, Friday, March 15, 2019.
Homes, vehicles and RV's are submerged in floodwaters that continue to rise along the Missouri River in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, Friday, March 15, 2019.
Adam Jensen races to load his Lincoln Navigator outside his home near Mayne and Condron Streets in Valley, Nebraska. With three kids and a dog they plan to head to a hotel in Iowa. Valley residents were ordered to evacuate because of flooding on Friday, March 15, 2019.