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.