A year after flood in Niobrara County, Wyoming, residents working to recover
June 22, 2016
Bright orange "Closed" signs spot on both ends of the overpass in Lusk, Wyo. Construction crews continue their work on the structure after it was ripped in half from a house carried down the swelled waters of the Niobrara River during the flood in the early hours of June 4, 2015.
A full year later, evidence of the flood in Manville and Lusk lingers, but the scars fade every day. All of the effected businesses are now open and families and individuals are taking steps to build new homes, fix what was left of their houses and replace what was lost.
Niobrara Strong Celebration
Jackie Bredthauer, Executive Director of Niobrara Chamber of Commerce:
"In November of last year, I had talked to the Lusk Mayor Patricia Smith and said that I think we need to do something June 4, 2016, since it is on a Saturday. So we declared it Niobrara Strong Day, a day of celebration and recognition to be aware of how far we've come in a year.
We started deciding events we wanted to do and it blossomed from there. The calcutta and dinner was on June 3. On the June 4, from 8-10 a.m., there was a pancake breakfast in the Manville School. The flash flood started first in Manville then pushed into Lusk. The Wyoming Women's Center hosted a golf tournament at 9 a.m. From 10 a.m.-2 p.m., five inflatable rides were on Third Street, one block off main. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bank of the West offered a free barbecue in their parking lot.
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At noon, Diane Shrober, the Wyoming Office of Tourism Director, spoke. There was free swimming at the Lusk pool that afternoon, weather permitting. From 2-6 p.m., Nate Smith and Cattywhompus Band played live music. There were vendors, cotton candy, snow cones and more downtown. Phyllis Hahn had a table outside The Pizza Place from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and will be taking stories and pictures to compile a book about the flood. The last event was at 6 p.m. at the Silver Dollar Bar. There was a free dinner and benefit auction for Lusk Volunteer Fire Department and Lusk Emergency Medical Services.
Most of the events were free or free-will donation. Part of our celebration is to make sure everyone who wants to come can afford to come.
This was a way to say thank you to all the people who helped drain water out of basements, people who helped clean up, the Mennonites for helping build houses. It was a celebration for those recovering from and thanks to those who helped after the flood. Together we remain Niobrara Strong.
The event was sponsored by Niobrara Chamber of Commerce, Lusk Lodging, Tax and Recreation Committee Grant, town of Lusk and Pinnacle Bank of Torrington."
Wyoming Quilt Trail beautifies the town
Karen Wisseman, owner of Lickety Stitch Quilts:
"In February, this idea came to me that one of the biggest icon photos from the flood was the one of all the pieces of our fabric laying out in the park. We got so much attention from that. We had been thinking of putting some blocks up on the outside of buildings before that, so I thought why not make this a project that would focus on that as our recovery sign signifying that we're back?
So, my sister Jane Filener and her husband Bruce, and my husband Dave and I got together and we painted blocks just for ourselves. We then put it out to the community and the community response has been really, really good. So we have been working really hard trying to get blocks made so everybody could have blocks and facilitate people.
Our hope is to advertise this and use it as a drawing card for travelers who come through Lusk. Lusk, the heart of the Wyoming Quilt Trail. We're creating a website and Facebook page. We're hoping we can draw traffic from other roads. The Wyoming Quilt Trail is the goal to start it here in Lusk and then get it going in other areas of Wyoming to join us. Then it would actually be all the way through Wyoming.
This isn't an original idea, there are many other areas of the country doing this, but it is kind of a continuation.
Lusk is just another little town that is easy to travel through and not really notice and forget and we want to make it memorable, and I think it will. People will remember us as the town of quilt blocks.
We don't want to be the ones who are responsible for everything, but just facilitate people so they can do it on their own. We have had a couple community classes; we have helped about 65 people in the community in our classes, and I know there are others who have done it on their own.
"One lady has done 15 blocks on her own for other people. We have had another helping her friends in a private setting and they've done probably a dozen blocks, so it's really been helpful and a great community project. Now we're at the point, we're starting to see them going up. We're thinking in a month, we'll see 100 around town and the area. They're out there, they just need to get them finished and hung.
As for Lickety Stitch, we are back to as much inventory as we had at the time of the flood. We lost about a third of our inventory and so it was a big thing to replace and get back up to speed again. We have a lot of positive feedback of our store and how it's rearranged. I think it's different, but good.
This summer will measure to see how things are because last summer was really a rough summer. We're looking forward to seeing if we can recuperate totally. It's an injury that takes a long time to heal. There are going to be scars forever and we just need to work on getting past that.
"We want to be remembered not as the store that got flooded, not as the town that got flooded, but as the little town that is beautiful and has the quilt trail going through it."
Healing from the flood damage
Erin Hodge, Ranch wife and mother to three children younger than 5-years-old. The family lost their home:
"The night of June 3, we were in a tornado warning, so at 10 o'clock that night, my husband T.J. and I took all the kids downstairs and they were all in bed with me.
At 12:30 p.m., my mom called and said the sheriff's department said we were getting a flood. I stepped out of my bed and into a couple inches of water. My parents, who lived in the same yard, came over and helped us. We put the important things on our bed because we thought, "We'll just get a couple feet of water." TJ brought his mountain lion mount upstairs, I took everything out of our infant daughter Brekkyn's dresser and threw it upstairs. All the while, Mom was carrying kids over to her house.
By the time we got out, the water was above our knees. Half an hour later, our basement collapsed.
In Manville, some of our friends were being pulled out by boat. We got the warning early enough and started carrying everything from my parents' house because they got flooded too. None of their big stuff got ruined, since we moved it all in time. They just got carpet two weeks ago, since we had moved in with them. We lived there for four months, then moved in to a FEMA, Federal Emergy Management Agency, house at Grandma's in October.
We had an option to have one, we didn't know much about it. We just knew there was an option to have one, two, or three bedrooms, that they were 800 square feet, that we could live in them for 18 months, but we'd have to pay our utilities.
We put the house here in October and will hopefully be out in July. They're cold, when Brekkyn was here crawling she was always cold, but we're glad for it.
Our new house will hopefully be here beginning of June and we'll hopefully be moved in in July or August. Almost a perfect year, it'll be done June 6. I said, 'You are not bringing the house in June 4, absolutely not.'
We're excited to move over here, but we'll be here with my Grandma instead of by my parents like we were. We're beyond excited to be in that house and settled. Those few months where we didn't know for sure were not fun. We didn't know if we should build or move, but now we know we're going to stay.
A lot of our family and friends helped. We pumped out our basement and tried to save everything. My aunt and best friend were spraying off and saving clothes. I came out with only two pairs of pants. People were there for a week probably, just cleaning stuff out. We had a lot of donations — we were in awe of the donations we got.
My three-year-old daughter, Blakely, ended up waking up when we took her over to moms and she was just kind of thought, 'Whatever, this is fun,' but then for the longest time she wouldn't spend more than a day away from me. My five-year-old son, Braxton, has a hard time like if an alarm clock goes off, he freaks out so we're still dealing with that. He's doing better though.
We're pretty lucky, we lost our house, but we got out of there, considering how close we were, if mom hadn't called. It was a cinder block foundation and it would have collapsed on me and my three kids. We were pretty lucky. The water only got but two inches from the top floor and would have taken everything out."
Help in the aftermath
Donna Hanson of The Enhance Niobrara Committee:
"The Enhance Niobrara Committee hosted an event Sept. 12, 2015 to raise funds for those in Niobrara County, Wyo., effected by the flood. The event featured a live auction, silent auction, dinner and dance. Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band played for the dance. It was very well attended and people were very generous with their donations. Over $150,000 was raised and was split 61 different ways among businesses, ranchers and individuals. We accepted applications for aid as well as nominations. Everyone who applied or was nominated got some type of monetary contribution." ❖