Spencer Dam

A shell of the Spencer dam is left on the Niobrara River.

LINCOLN — The phone rang at Paul Allen's ranch house along the Niobrara River at 6 a.m. It wasn't good news.

Five miles upstream, the Spencer Dam — a 91-year-old concrete structure — had "been compromised," and a wall of water was heading his way.

Just below the dam, a popular tavern, built of straw bales, was washed away, as was a bait shop, a half-dozen campers and a home. One man who lived in the home was missing.

"It looks like there was never anything there," said Allen, 75.

A quarter-mile section of U.S. 281 was washed out just south of the bridge over the Niobrara River. At the Allen ranch, floodwaters 4 to 5 feet deep inundated pastures and livestock pens, he said, tipping over stock trailers, flowing into farm sheds and tractors, and scattering cattle.

"It's not good. We don't have no clue how many cows we lost yet, or equipment or machinery," he said.

Luckily, the ranch house and a cabin where his son's family lived were on higher ground, farther away from the Niobrara River. By 10:30 a.m or so, volunteer firefighters from Lynch and neighbors arrived. Allen said they used heavy, four-wheel drive tractors to drive through the floodwaters and then four-wheel drive pickups, to evacuate the two families, including two young children, ages 6 and 2.

By noon, family members were staying with a neighbor, waiting for the floodwaters to subside, waiting to see what was left.

"I've never seen anything close to this," he said. "I've seen water come within a foot of coming over the banks of the river, but never anything like this. Never."

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