After officials lifted an evacuation advisory on the Northview community Sunday, some residents started moving back, and others who stayed behind began their normal routines.
But with Tuttle Creek Lake still just one strong rainstorm from potentially overtopping, residents in the area know they’re in for a stressful summer.
The lake continues to decrease, with an elevation of 1,133.95 feet above sea level Tuesday morning. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is keeping releases at 30,000 cubic feet per second through the outlet tubes, and Brian McNulty, project operations manager for the Corps at Tuttle, said the lake is projected to reach 1,128 feet by mid- to late-next week, depending on rainfall.
After a week of emergency preparations when the lake came within inches of 1,136 feet — the point at which officials would consider using the dam’s emergency spillway gates and putting the area at risk for flooding — residents in the area said the decreasing lake level was a relief, but they are still on edge.
Heath Welch lives right on the edge of the flood zone. He’s a member of the Greater Northview Action Team, and the neighborhood has been frantic, he said. Throughout the past week, he said he’s worked his regular 8-5 job only to go home and continue on flood-related work until bedtime.
“For the people in the more affected areas, it’s been exhausting,” Welch said. “I’ve been trying to help all of my neighbors to move stuff to higher ground or on blocks if they don’t have anywhere else to put it.”
With the evacuation advisory lifted, things have calmed down a bit, and Welch said the past week was a good run-through in case the area is actually evacuated later this summer.
“When the lake was so high and the inflow was higher than the outflow, there were so many people panicking,” Welch said. “But there was so much camaraderie in the neighborhood. Everyone was waving at each other and learning each others’ names. It kind of reminded me of what it was like after 9/11. We’re all in the same boat and working together as a team.”
That sense of community will be critical moving through the summer, Welch said.
“Now we just have this hanging over our head all summer, that we never know when a good rain is going to hit Nebraska and end up flowing into our lake and putting us in a bad situation quick again,” Welch said. “That could easily happen in one night’s rain, if Nebraska got a serious amount.”
City commissioner Linda Morse was also on alert this past week, as she lives in one of the affected neighborhoods.
“It’s been stressful, to certain degrees,” Morse said. “For me, it was unsettling. I live in the same house as I did in 1993, and my house did not flood then. So I was a little bit more relaxed this time and I decided not to move everything out of the house with the expectation that it would not be a very higher flood than in 1993.”
Even though she did not expect her house to flood, she packed some of her bags to be ready to go with as few as two-hours notice. Morse said she expects her neighbors’ lives to be “on hold” for the rest of the summer.
From an elected official’s standpoint, Morse said the flood zone has to be an issue for the entire community. With fewer years between floods in the city’s recorded history, the city should look into additional policies to protect the existing flood zone area and deter further development.
“What physically can we do?” Morse said. “That takes a community decision. Not just one commissioner. It’s an issue that transcends a lot of commissions over a lot of years. … Everyone in this community has an interest in the local economy and the individuals who are caught up in this. Even those people who live on a hill should be concerned about this issue for the community as a whole.”
Morse pointed out that while flooding remains a concern for the rest of the summer, every day that goes by is a relief for some residents waiting for flood insurance to kick in.
“The neighbor next to me was waiting, holding their breath, for June 1, when their flood insurance would go into effect that day,” Morse said. “They met the deadline. I think there are other people in that 30-day period who are holding their breath, so if nothing else, this long period of the water dropping is helping more people.”
On Monday afternoon, neighborhood residents Genita and Richard Silva enlisted the help of their grandchildren to unload some of their possessions back into their home on Harvey Street. When the evacuation advisory went out last week, they moved across town into their grandson’s house.
Genita said she was glad to be back, especially since her husband has Alzheimer’s and was starting to become anxious away from his home.
“It’s been hard,” Genita said, “but we’re back. And that’s what matters.”
As the family put things back in the house, they walked through the garage, where the couple had brought up all of their basement possessions. Like other families, Genita said she would keep things above ground through the summer, at least while the lake is still high. In any case, she said a silver lining is that the flooding potential has helped her declutter some of the stuff in her home.
“This has been a mess, but we’ll get it back together eventually,” Genita said.