Don't Shoot the Messenger
By Lori Himes
For a person that makes her living by the written word, I struggle from the effort of describing the definition of such abject devastation.
Most of us were circumspect to complain about the extremely wet month of May. Rain brings grass, grass feeds cattle and cattle feed us, both figuratively and literally. I suppose many of us, including myself, had become desensitized to the late afternoon thundershowers and frequent weather alerts. We retired that night confident in our security, illuminated intermittently by the flashes of lightening and the distant rumble of thunder. We awoke to a surreal reality.
By the time we were a jolted awake in Lusk, Manville had already been battling rising floodwaters. Lusk emergency responders, law enforcement and citizens answered the noble call of duty to assist our western neighbors and then raced back to continue the confrontation with Mother Nature.
There was a hierarchy in the method of confronting overwhelming calls to duty with limited resources. The citizens of the least populated county in the least populated state in the nation are exceptional multi-taskers, not by choice but by necessity. The Lusk Volunteer Fire Chief is also the Town of Lusk Water Department Supervisor. The Town of Lusk Mechanic holds the dual title of Lusk/Niobrara Ambulance Service Director. The Niobrara County Emergency Management Coordinator interlaces his duties with the responsibilities of Town of Lusk Parks and Cemetery Supervisor. Firemen and EMTs work for the town and county as well as their own businesses. The list goes on. When this county sounded the call to action, all responded without hesitation, without thought to individual needs. They faced their tasks fully confident that when they stepped away in the service of others, away from their families and property, someone would immediately stand proxy in their stead. And it happened time after time through the darkest hours before dawn.
There were no tears, no wailing or gnashing of teeth. Just stoic community strength. There would be time for tears later. Communication was concise and generally focused on reports of personal safety.
Before the break of dawn, word had spread that everyone was accounted for. Nobody died. Nobody was seriously injured. The eyes of Niobrara County looked upward and forward.
The wrathful fury of the Niobrara River receded and paled in the face of the ferocious counter attack launched by this county. Nature cracked the hornet's nest with its best shot and was met with a swarm of determined individuals. Niobrara County stood at the flood line and as by will, step-by step reclaimed their home. Their broken, damaged, destroyed home.
Personal property losses span from minimal to everything. Within a few short hours our community lost so much. We lost material possessions. We also lost hate, jealousy and selfishness. A common sight on the mud and debris congested streets was self-sacrifice. One person that had lost everything comforting their neighbor with a mud filled basement. A ruined business owner forgiving the debts of other community members so they could concentrate on the task at hand. A child handing out water and snacks to fuel the recovery process.
There was no rioting. There was no looting. Well to be honest, there was the smattering of dissent over the 48 hours of curfew directive that was compared to martial law, however most Wyoming residents would agree, we do not like to be told what to do. And we as a community abided by the edict. Actually we were tired anyway.
We embraced the many national, federal and state agencies deployed. We welcomed them into our fragmented community with grace and appreciation. We understand that they will have to leave to assist other communities with similar issues. We grasp the concept that recovery is a long process. If I may be so bold as to ask for one more courtesy. President Obama, would you be so kind as to expedite declaring Niobrara County, Wyoming a natural disaster area. The resilient, God-fearing, tax paying citizens of the least populated county in the least populated state in our nation will take it from there.
Casper Star Tribune
June 14, 2015
Help Lusk rebuild after flood damage
Lusk and other parts of Niobrara County were deluged recently when a storm hit the area with three hours of rain and hail. Residents watched helplessly as the usually docile Niobrara River overflowed and washed out U.S. Highway 18/20 near Manville.
Nine miles downriver and 200 feet lower sat Lusk, the county seat, home to about 1,600 people. Once there, the raging waters collapsed a bridge over the Union Pacific rail, leaving a 30-foot hole in the span, and coursed through town, devastating everything in their path. No one in the area remembers a flood that hit the town so hard.
It was a terrifying night and an arduous few days in the eastern part of the state, and still there is much work to be done. Crews reopened the highway and repaired a culvert that had washed out, but a 30-mile stretch of U.S. 85 remains closed between Lusk and Wyoming Highway 270 because of the collapsed bridge. About 30 homes were destroyed and up to 20 businesses were damaged. Those are awful statistics, and we're glad state agencies are involved and helping. For too many people, this will be a very difficult summer.
But we can take some solace from this news: No one in Niobrara County was hurt, and the community displayed incredible resilience. As challenging and debilitating as the whole episode was, business owners and homeowners alike sprang into action.
Photo/Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune
The water swirled downtown and inflicted major damage at the businesses there. At an antique shop, the door was torn from its hinges, and expensive furniture found itself across the room from where it had started. Much of the merchandise - the results of the proprietors' many long trips to other states - was unsalvageable.
A river of water poured through another store's front window, loosing dinosaur bones and other fossils into the street. And many, many others sustained major water damage, including the Pizza Place, which was within days of its official reopening date after recovering from a fire 20 months ago.
It was a difficult day, with so much devastation. But the people of Lusk and Niobrara County offered an example for the rest of us - a reminder of how we operate in Wyoming. Teamwork was the theme of the recovery. Business owners remained positive, each trying to draw attention to how much worse someone else had it. Volunteers and emergency personnel paced in and out of the buildings, saving what items they could and trying to dry the rest. Any lost objects that could be identified made their way back home. That's just how Lusk works. That's just how Wyoming works.
The community pulled together, and because of that, it will eventually recover. That won't come without a lot of effort and pain, though - and when it's done, businesses there be more excited than ever to welcome customers. We hope that once Lusk reopens for business, Wyomingites will consider adding the area to their options for day trips or vacation routes this summer. Stop in for a meal and some shopping and enjoy what Lusk is rebuilding. It's a chance to visit a place full of positive, hardworking, committed people and the community they love. Don't miss it.
The Lusk Herald
June 17, 2015
Don't Shoot the Messenger
By Lori Himes
The KĂĽbler-Ross model is a series of emotional stages experienced by survivors. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are not a complete list of all possible emotions, and can occur in any order. Not everyone who experiences a life-threatening or life-altering event feels all five of the responses but in my limited experience, most people do traverse through the stages eventually. The journey toward healing is not linear. The journey resembles something similar to a big bowl of spaghetti. Each individual will take their own path, including revisiting phases thought resolved.
The first concerns I had were my parents that were in the direct path of the flood waters. I was helpless to get to them. As much as I wanted to control my environment and situation, this circumstance was in the hands of a higher power. Before we moved to this property, the area was known as "The Islands". Marginally ironic I would say. While my dad did admit he checked on the rising water, there was nothing to be done but to go back to bed, which he did. Mom said, "Oh I thought I heard the creek bubbling." Do I detect the stage of denial? I did when I called later that evening and my dad requested a cake be boated into him. My brother assures me that dad was just teasing me.
After a few days of little or no sleep and demanding jobs, I found myself up to my size ten men's muck boots, not an attractive look, I might add, since I wear a size eight women's. I was washing mud off of tools for my husband. Now I understand the difference between a metric and standard socket set. My ex gave me one for Mother's Day. Possibly one reason he's my ex. But to be honest I really don't care. After several valid questions, on my part, my husband began to get impatient. Right up to the time that I reminded him that I would do anything for him, but if he snapped at me one more time, I was sure that one of the many cast iron skillets we owned would be a perfect fit. To which he replied, "Yes dear." Problem solved. We weren't fighting. We were working through anger with a little bargaining thrown in.
Depression is a tough one. Trying to meet deadlines when concentration is difficult is almost impossible. My exhausted husband thought chocolate milk sounded good. Since I had secured the win, alibi with cast iron, I thought I would support his desire. Off to the store I went. Almost 18 hours later my husband once again requested chocolate milk. "Well I bought you some." "Where is it?" Then it hit me. The milk was still in the car. For 18 hours. In 87 degree heat. Oops.
Acceptance will come and go. I accept that this disaster happened. But I am still far from accepting. I do feel great pride for this community and what the have overcome. If I may impart one message, it would be this. We as a community excelled at the frantic sprint to rescue. Now we are settling into the marathon of recovery. Take care of yourselves as well as you have taken care of others.
The Lusk Herald
June 24, 2015
News & Views: Flood Memories and The Future
by Phyllis Hahn
This is the first of what is hoped to be a chronicle of the many experiences that happened as a result of the disastrous flood that roared through Lusk and many parts of Niobrara county during the first week of June, 2015.
Massive flood waters reached the town of Lusk shortly before midnight, rearranging the river channel, bringing with it pollution, mud, debris of all sorts and powerful surges of energy that resulted in destruction never before experienced or remembered by any of the long-time resident. The following morning, loss of power and no water confronted those who had actually slept through the storm. The full realization of the immensity of the situation began to sink in throughout the day.
Ervin Cox, 84, an ex-marine, had been living with his daughter, Dixie Blaney, in a three bedroom trailer house located in north Lusk, close by the Niobrara River. When they realized they needed to evacuate, they waded in knee-high water to their car, which refused to start. By the time they had returned to the hoped-for safety of the trailer house, the water was up to their necks. They spent the night inside until the next morning when they were rescued by several men in a pickup. Cox commented, "I have been in four floods and one earthquake in my lifetime but this was the worst". They are currently living in the home of a deceased relative, which had been standing empty for a few years. Dixie had shared their predicament on Facebook, which resulted in a Good Samaritan, living in Riverton, donating the use of a front end loader with a scoop and set of forks, being delivered to Lusk for the demolition of the trailer house, which had been declared uninhabitable due to the pollution and general damage caused by the flood waters. The loan of equipment was for two weeks. The next-door trailer house was occupied by Dixie's sister, Rhonda and her husband, Larry Stone. That trailer was trashed by the flood also and was declared a "total disaster". Larry tore the sheetrock off the walls and found water damage inside. Later in the week, the heartsick family members watched the demolition of their trailer homes. Temporary housing at the Highway Campgound is where the Stones live now.
Clarabelle Davis and her companion, Bill Kennedy were living in the family home located across from the historic railroad station. They received an advisory call at 10:00 p.m. about the possible flood waters, but remembering the many calls about weather systems that didn't materialize, they went to bed with a false sense of security. After 2:00 a.m. they were called to check for water. They opened a door and the water swished in and filled the basement rapidly. After several calls to dispatch, (they) were told a boat was being sent but it went by and didn't stop. The first floor was filling fast and after their call, "What do we do now?" were told to get on the highest place possible, and they chose a table. Finally a front-end loader manned by Jim Jordan and a helper helped them get into the bucket and they were delivered to the ambulance driven by Jim Krein, which was parked at the overpass (before it collapsed). Krein saw the lights come on in Clarabelle's car and thought they were inside it, trying to drive it somewhere, but the water soon swept it up to a fifth-wheel trailer where it stopped. Bill's Dodge pickup also went for a ride on its own, ending up behind the Laundromat. Both vehicles are totaled. Clarabelle sat in wet clothes for 8 hours until she was given dry clothes and coffee by Joann and Pat Wade. Holly Nelson brought her dry socks and provided a blanket to wrap in after getting out of her wet clothing. They are fortunate in being able to stay for now in a home that is empty for the summer while currently waiting for an insurance adjustor to evaluate their house. Clarabelle's children, Debby jacobs and friend Rick measles of Worland and Lavelda Wickwire and her friend Bill Roberts of Casper, have been packing things up. Thirteen youth from the LDS Mormon Church in Casper showed up Saturday to help empty out things from the basement. Clarabelle's sister, Mary Shiley of Quincy, Illinois arrived on Thursday to give badly needed moral support as well as help.
The weather system covered a large part of Niobrara county and ranchers were not exempt from being hit hard. The Van Tassell Creek drains with a thousand foot drop in altitude as it flows coming out of the Hat Creek breaks. Norma Bruegger reports that they had received only a couple inches of rain locally but the ground was already saturated from previous rains and it raised the water table. The basement in her ranch home near Van Tassell had several inches seep into basement rooms through the cracks where the walls met the floor. Outside, the flood waters reached the bottom step of her house, flowing across the road that led to other places. It tore up fences, lifting fence posts in the Bruegger meadow, and resulted in extreme erosion of private roads north of them. They contacted the Fisher roof and Restoration Company of Scottsbluff, who arrived and helped with the basement cleaning after sucking out the standing water and helped move things into a dry area. The fences and roads will be on a long list of things to fix.
Many of our friends have stories to share about their survival and it is important that we do not let it all fade quickly into forgotten memoriies. Pease call me with names and phone numbers or ways to contact them. My phone is 307-334-2777, mail to P.O. Box 839, Lusk, WY 82225 or e-mail to email@example.com
The Lusk Herald
July 1, 2015
News and Views - More Storm Stories
by Phyllis Hahn
Much credit is due to the new Emergency management Coordinator, James Santistevan, who assumed the responsibility for contacting relief quickly to the community's disastrous flood. He was recently appointed to the position in January of 2015 by Governor Matt Mead. He completed two months of training online with Homeland Security and was under the guidance of Kester Akers, who served the community for many years as Civil Defense coordinator. Santistevan had been head weather spotter for 10 years prior to this. His first alert came from County Commisioner Chairman Richard Ladwig, Manville resident, who called about 10:30 p.m. with the warning that flood waters were already there. Santistevan went to Manville to evaluate the situation and followed up with a look at the golf course on his way back to Lusk. Chief of Police Sean Dreesen and Asst. Chief Jim Frye were called out. A code red alert "Robo" call went out from the sheriff's office. Homeland Security was notified and they contacted other agencies that responded quickly to the situation. The Lusk volunteer fire department was dispatched to Manville to help people evacuate their homes by ambulance service. The Laramie and Casper Fire departments brought their swift water teams for water rescue by 9:00 a.m. James Santistevan declared he was glad that "there was no loss of life or subsequent death..." and was glad to see the pool open for the summer and felt the major cleanup was going well. The landfill will remain open for flood victims.
When flood waters of any amount descend on Lusk, the first thought many seem to have is that the Bredthauer Dam has broken. This has never happened, even this time. It was built in the mid-fifties according to Dave Bredthauer, whose father, Bill Bredthauer, began building the dam, located a few miles west of Lusk. He had Ed Hales complete the work using his International Caterpillar (14 or 18) and Shorty Lamb finished the job putting a rock face on the dam using Cat tractors (D6 or D7). The dam is spring-fed, is not on the Niobrara river, and was not the source of the flooding that the present land owners, Ron and Sandra Smith, experienced. They received a call at 1:00 a.m. from Santistevan alerting them to the flooding. They had one hour to prepare for the disaster. They lost a barn, a quonset and corrals. A semi, pickup, 4 tractors, 2 balers and 3 gooseneck trailers were inundated, and they have hopes of saving some of those. A bottle-fed calf was the only livestock loss. Five bulls that were in the corrals actually swam out to safety. The Smiths are presently doing a lot of cleaning up necessary after 2 1/2 feet of water flooded the basement of their home. R.J. Corman of Kentucky and Earth Movers of Torrington quickly repaired the road crossing of the railroad tracks, which are right by the Smith home so they could have a way to drive out.
Ann Baggett realized her friend, Russ Crowley had no phone, so called dispatch to alert someone to help. James Santistevan quickly showed up at his door, and Russ answered, wondering who would be there at that hour. He was advised "It's coming. - a flood" and recommended he leave "right now". Although Crowley thought he was "blowin' wind", took the advice, dressed quickly, got in his Nissan and left to stay in a house available to him. He figured he's just stay the night, go back in the morning and resume residence at his place, which he has called home for years. His house had lath and plaster walls that simply disintegrated, hardwood floors that are warping and other major damage. He hopes to someday return. The yard was filled with 15 RR ties, a couple cars, hay bales and other trash carried and dumped by the waters. Tom Dunlap, a fellow 1968 Classmate, brought a generator and pump and helped empty the basement. many friends have helped Crowley who is hoping the structure is salvageable.
The code red alert call helped many a resident such as Loretta Wilkison. She hadn't realized the water was already in her yard when she got her call. She filled a suitcase with clothes and her meds, put a harness on her dog and grabbed dog food, and turned the electricity off. Steve Haworth came by to assist her in opening the garage door so she could drive her pickup out. She headed past Marvin Hammer's residence and ended up in the Lusk Cemetery above the flood waters along with others seeking higher ground. After spending two hours till daylight, she saw others going over the overpass, so she followed suit and had just barely gotten over when it collapsed behind her. She felt "God was watching over me". Loretta spent the next night with other evacuees at the Niobrara County Fairgrounds, sleeping on a cot, with a pillow and blanket, provided by the National Guard. Her tiny dog, a chaweeny named "Missy" was housed in the animal shelter set up in the pig barn. The next night her neighbor, Helen Fulk, also displaced by the flood, joined Loretta as guests in the Town House Motel, which was one of several motels extending hospitality to those displaced from homes. The next day, two firemen from Casper escorted her to her home to check on the situation there, where they found only 2 inches in her basement. Eight railroad ties had floated into her driveway. Furniture and appliances stored in the garage were all ruined and had to be thrown in the dumpsters placed by TDS. Sink holes even appeared in her yard. Her daughter, Lenore, and son, Delmar, arrived on Monday to help her sort through things and for moral support. Different agencies helped clean her basement, and garage floor, which was slimy with mud. Even the fence, which had rubble piled against it, was cleaned up by volunteers.
The wide-spread reach of the storm included many rural residents as well as those in the flood plains of Lusk and Manville. Basements and crawl spaces of homes in Manville were inundated with water as it grew in volume with drainage flowing into the Niobrara River channel. Kay Green's basement and garage were the scene of cleanup afterward with welcome assistance from her daughter and husband, Iim and Steve Berdahl of Casper coming to her rescue the second weekend of June. Fence lines along the highway west of Manville are draped with grasses in amazing places, revealing how high the water had been.
Manville resident, Bobby Frye called Chuck Sides for help as their trailer was filling with water. Sides borrowed a flat bottom boat from a neighbor and grabbed shovels to use for paddles as they couldn't find them in the urgency of the moment. She was sitting on a counter in the kitchen when they popped open the back door. The water was waist-high. Sides carried Delmar Frye out on his shoulders and then went back for Bobby and carried her out. The couple were chilled and were thankful to be delivered to the Ambulance and Fire Rescue team that was transporting people to temporary refuge at the Niobrara Fairgrounds.
Please call 307-334-2777 or e-mail to pehahn82225@q,com or mail to Phyllis Hahn, P.O. Box 839, Lusk, WY 82225 if you have news to share or tips for stories.
The Lusk Herald
July 8, 2015
News & Views: More Memories of June 4, 2015
by Phyllis Hahn
On June 4, 2015, J.D. Wasserburger had driven to town about 4:30 a.m., fully expecting to be working with cattle south of Lusk. When he approached Lusk, he crossed the bridge, which fell behind him and he saw the flooding. Wasserburger went out east of town to round up cowboys, still planning to work cattle, but found their medical supplies were unavailable due to the flooding. He then met up with Doyle Davies, who had gone to check his law office, on the north end of Main Street, one of those businesses closest to the Niobrara River. After checking that basement, J.D. contacted his son, Eric Wasserburger, to call for all the vac trucks possible to pump out the basements of the town. Buck Creek Freight sent five trucks, J.P. Oil sent one, Ben Hanson sent one, Miller Enterprises of Lance Creek sent two, all to Lusk. Pat Jordan pulled Barker's vacuum trailer and Chris Jensen (MacJac) drove a vac truck to Manville. In Lusk, they started with the law office and moved on to the Quilt shop, The Pub and True Value Hardware (where they pulled 97,000 gallons out the first day), and then the bank, Dennis Meiers' building, and Valley Motors. They even cleared out some homes that had flooded. A conservative estimate would be that over two million gallons were sucked out of buildings in Lusk. The names of some of those who helped in the business district included Reed Smith, Eric Wasserburger, Andrew Wasserburger, J.D. Wasserburger, Tim Kugler, Jesse Hart, Dakota Fortner, Ricky Moore, Colton Miller, David Thomas and his wife, Josh Connor, Jeff Wells, Wally Kant, Pat Jordan, Brett Dockery, Ben Hanson, Dan Hanson, Mark Taylor and Greg Matney. This list may not be complete but any omission is not intentional. "The turnout of high school students and their parents, who showed up was unbelievable," according to J.D. Wasserburger, who admired their willingness and energy as they attacked the mud with shovels, squeegees, and any other tool they could employ, working long hours to help clear up the muddy mess.
Kathy Johnson, Lusk Animal Control Officer, spends a lot of energy fulfilling her job. She had placed a dog in foster care only 6 1/2 hours before the flood reached Lusk, which left two; a chihuahua named "Bear" and a large mixed breed called "Mud", in the shelter located at 35 Linden Street between Boldon's and Byan Systems. She received her red code alert in the early hours of the morning that an 8 foot wall of water had already reached Manville. Her first concern was for the dogs in the shelter and found it was badly damaged. She had to walk holding onto the fence to go in the back side of the shelter in shoulder deep water. Inside, the washer and dryer had pushed against the middle cage of the shelter. The water was just below the breaker box. Byan Systems employees, Guy and Tom Linneman, with their wives, Linda and Rickie arrived to assist her in rescuing the dogs. They formed a human chain in the deep water passing them to one another. The chihuahua was on a floating table, but the larger dog had a bloody head and nose from trying to chew his way out. Kathy was very grateful for her friends' help saying "I couldn't have done it by myself." The fortunate animals have since been adopted to forever homes. The shelter couldn't be salvaged and rescued animals are currently being sheltered at the Fairgrounds, where Wanda Spivey has been in charge. Over 200 pets have been cared for there since the flood, as some displaced persons could not keep pets in their temporary homes. The Black Dog Rescue in Cheyenne gave the Lusk animal shelter $1,500 for expenses. Currently, there are optimistic plans to put up a new shelter with Petco Foundation helping in obtaining a grant for funding.
The Lusk Alliance Church building was hit hard by the flood waters, caving in the basement walls on the west side. Pastor Joel Richardson received his red code alert phone call in the middle of the night but wasn't concerned about his home as it was not in the flood plain. Someone called early Thursday morning saying "I don't know if you know this or not, but...you need to come look at the church." A great concern for them was the sound equipment, which they use for their services. About twelve people showed up to help get it out and loaded into four pickups and then taken to store safely. (It was used for the community church service Sunday, June 28, held in Washington Park.) Four vac trucks showed up to suck the water out, which was a losing battle as the water came back in as fast as it was taken out. The piano was sitting on the floor above the baptismal tub and pushed it up when the tub floated in the water. They were able to save the piano. Richardson kept getting phone calls from folks wanting to help, but he told them to "go help others" as they had done all they could at the church building. The west wall has now collapsed with mud hip deep mixed in the cinder blocks from the wall and the building is deemed a total loss. The Lusk Alliance Church is currently meeting at the Lusk Elementary Middle School, which has been a "good neighbor" to the Lusk Alliance church, in letting them use their building for worship. Their minds are, "swirling with possibilities" for the future but intend to be serving the community in many ways. The original building was the home of the Church of the Open Bible and was constructed several decades ago by Alex Miller and Sons.
The Lusk Herald
July 15, 2015
News & Views: Flood Story #4
by Phyllis Hahn
Geof Cummins was awakened by a police officer about 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning and was advised to leave as flood waters were coming. He had been evacuated twice before for imminent flooding, which didn't materalize, so wasn't too concerned this time. His home was located on a bank above the Niobrara River, which normally is a quiet little stream. However, he dressed, grabbed his dogs and drove to his brother, Arlan Cummins' home to stay for the night and found he needed a key so drove back about 3:00 a.m and it still hadn't flooded. The next morning at 8:00 a.m., he returned to find his house had been completely swept away. Cummins, who had recently undergone the stress of a divorce, said "It killed me!" and felt "his whole life was gone". He was totally devastated. Cummins had been remodeling the house, putting in new walls and hardwood flooring to make it "his own". Since the flood, he has been living with his brother, literally picking up the pieces as he and family members have been walking the muddy creek banks and actually have found a few items of clothing that could be cleaned and salvaged, some family pictures, and many surprising household items that survived the water. Much more though is completely gone forever. He is fortunate to have family here in Lusk and has a job working for Jim Jordan. Cummins plans to eventually find another place to call home, but it will not be in the flood plain.
Freddy and Sandy Thomas awakened about 3:00 a.m. to no power so he got up and started their generator so he could use his cell phone which had been off, and called dispatch, who advised them to evacuate "now" from their place located on the northeast corner of Lusk. They dressed quickly, and gathered their animals. Sandy tried to drive her car out, saw debris coming and her car quit. She joined her husband in the pickup, and they sat out the flood from there. The sound of the waters was too loud to hear over as it rushed past them. The basement of their home filled with water that had pushed a window open. It increased in force as it flowed up the stair well, and blew the back door off the hinges. The basement was finally all pumped out by Friday but due to the high ground-water content in the soil, some still seeps back in. Fans borrowed from the City have helped dry out the house. Several days later, a Casper LDS youth group arrived to help. A friend loaned them a grain truck, which was loaded ten times with things that had to be thrown away. They lost a water heater, furnace and many belongings. One deep regret is an orange ottoman that was full of family pictures. Repairs also included removal of carpet, subflooring and water-logged walls to deal with possible mold. The Red Cross had provided them with mold retardant and bleach. They were able to stay with a friend east of Lusk until their home was liveable again. They are coping with the situation one day at a time after finding it "quite harrowing" but were thankful for the friends and family who helped them through the cleanup.
Jim and Jessie Bonsell, who lived on Griffith Boulevard, were awakened by Officer Frye about 2:00 a.m. advising them they needed to get out in thirty minutes. Jim went downstairs, putting things up high, expecting that would keep everything safe and dry. They didn't expect much water. About 3:00 a.m., the water began flowing down their street and soon became ankle deep. They got into their '98 Olds and started driving down the street and the water began pushing the car. They drove over debris on the railroad tracks and turned onto Pine Street (North-South) which was higher. As they continued driving around, the roar of the water was deafening. Going by the Lusk Alliance Church, they saw the creek fill with water in a hurry. They parked in Deckers parking lot as it was above the flood level and they got no sleep that night. The Ben and Ann Bonsell home was the only house with lights due to the solar system used there and they sought refuge with them for awhile. Jim chose to continue driving around and parked again on Pine Street where he saw the water above stop signs, saw the overpass collapse and noted the water came within a foot of the top of the doors of the newly built Niobrara conservation District building across from the depot. When they were able to go to check on their home, they found they had come back to a huge mess. The garage had been stripped of everything in it, and the house foundation had collapsed on one side. An opening to the attic was blown upward. Buildings, vehicles and property outside was rearranged in their yard and some moved across the street by the force of the flood waters. At present time their home is unlivable. Family and friends have given them a place to stay while they decide what to do.
Please call 307-334-2777 for an appointment to share your flood story/experience.
The Lusk Herald
July 22, 2015
News & Views
by Phyllis Hahn
Jim and Debbie Meng live on a family ranch north of Lusk near Red Bird. His father, Jim Meng, Sr., was born in a log cabin in 1920 and the family does not recall any flood of the magnitude such as experienced on June 4, 2015. A flood caused by a rain storm in 1991 dumped water that rose on Old Woman Creek, but not nearly the amount of water this time. A reverse 911 phone call about 1:30 a.m. came to warn of flooding. They had about 2 inches of rain and the next morning about 11:00 a.m., they checked the creek and found the water had already flowed there, crossing Hwy 85 and again back by DeGering's. The Old Woman Creek is normally small enough to jump across but it was running about four tenths of a mile wide and flowing fast toward Red Bird where it runs into Lance Creek. The Mengs are still without water at their home as the flood damaged the pipeline that delivers it. A permit for installing new pipe has finally been issued and Mengs have hope of getting it installed soon. They had two tire water stock tanks that weigh about 4,000 pounds (installed with a cement floor) carried away by the flood waters. They found one a mile away and the other is still missing. There is "just trash everywhere...trees piled with logs," and at least two miles of fence needs replacing. The bridge on old Hwy 85 is badly washed with holes around the pilings and they are avoiding truck traffic on that. Their corrals had five fences coming together there but have only one left. Despite all this, the family feels very lucky.
The Torrington radio predicted thunderstorms for June 3, Wednesday evening, so Dave Caspers, who lives about a block north of Griffith Boulevard, was not surprised by the constant thunder as he went to bed early. The police knocked on his door to alert him to the flooding, followed by a call from Ron Smith telling him that they were trapped at their ranch west of town, which had already flooded. He dressed quickly and drove his pickup to a friend's house where he stayed the rest of the night. He arose at 5:00 a.m. but was not allowed into the area to get to his home until 6:00 p.m. that evening. The basement had filled with 98 inches of water, only 4 inches below the subflooring. It had scooped out the rock in the window wells of the egress windows after breaking the glass. The side of his shop was pushed in, debris and anything that could float and some that one wouldn't expect to, had floated away, including a picnic table, saw horses, propane tanks, etc. Eleven engines had been under water (power tools, mower, etc.). A couple trailers ended up in the creek bed, which had been dry before the flood. Young people from Douglas High School athletic groups came and did a "bang up" job supervised by their coaches, according to Caspers, as well as the North Hills Baptist Church youth from Lingle. Family members, Grant Caspers of Colton, S.D. and Grant Lowe and son Devon of Greeley, Colo., came to assist in the cleanup. They found it was necessary to clean the broom before you could sweep the floor! Dave Caspers felt he was very lucky there was no damage to his main floor.
Steve Haworth, a resident in northeast Lusk, arose in the middle of the night and found he had a text message on his cell phone advising him of a flood alert. He dressed and went outside and didn't see anything to suggest that likely. His brother called an hour later and he went outside to check the situation out again and found there was at least 8 inches in his driveway already. He went back in the house to get his inhaler, left a message on the neighbors' phone warning them of the flood, and drove up his street, where he saw Loretta Wilkison needing help. He assisted her with getting her pickup out and on her way to drive to a higher location as the water was up to the running boards by then. He then helped Vickie Frazee get her car out of flood waters. After the water had gone down enough, he walked back to his house, where the water was a foot deep on the first floor. Since then, several groups have pitched in to help him with the devastation caused to his property. The house had to be totally gutted and he just has a shell now. Home Depot helped remove the kitchen cupboards, groups from the Southern Baptist Church, Torrington Baptist Church, and a Casper Mormon Church assisted in getting the sheetrock walls and water-soaked insulation ripped out and even a farmer from Nebraska came to help out. Haworth, who had nine working tractors before, now has five that could be saved and also lost several autos and a camper. His losses included livestock, a calf that he'd purchased only a few days before, and four goats. He sold a tractor a month before the flood and is now wishing he'd auctioned everything off then.
The Lusk Herald
July 29, 2015
News and Views
By Phyllis Hahn
On the evening of June 3, 2015, about 10:30 p.m., Bob and Polly Johnson, who are ranchers living about eight miles northwest of Lusk, experienced extremely heavy rain that was interspersed with hail and more rain that came down in buckets, never letting up, making it impossible to even see out of the windows. Altogether, they received about seven inches of rain and hail, which accumulated in drifts, some as high as six feet tall. These required the use of a tractor to clear places where fences needed repair. Some pasture roads still need work to make them passable. Their home sustained some water damage in the basement, however the Johnsons feel fortunate that they did not sustain greater loss to their property.
The Lusk Herald
August 12, 2015
Flood stories by Phyllis Hahn
Mike Smith, who lives one block north of Highway 20 on South Maple Street, was awakened about 3:20 a.m. in the morning on June 4, by Officer Frye, who told Mike "There's a flood". Looking outside, Smith noted about 4" of water in the yard, which grew quickly to two feet of fast moving water. He threw clothing on, hollered at his daughter, Shatto, that she needed to get out, a flood was coming. Mike sleeps in the basement and by then water was coming in a window falling on the bed he's just vacated. He grabbed his cell phone, muck boots, pants and a towel and with the rest of the family, had to fight the water to get into two vehicles. By holding onto the fence, he was able to put their dog into the house. His daughter, Shatto, began driving her car and Mike drove his 95 Dodge pickup, which had water pushing hard against all sides. He gunned the engine and drove over debris in the road, with Shatto following behind with her children in her car. They finally got her boyfirend to jump in the car and were able to park in a safer zone a couple blocks south of their home. At 3:45 a.m., he called his daughter, Trish Molzahn, and woke them up, alerting them to the situation. Smith warned them not to go south as the water was too deep. The water was pouring down Griffith Boulevard instead of the Niobrara River channel, where one would expect it to go. People in homes next door were evacuated by the fire department trucks, with some very reluctant to leave, requiring considerable persuasion. It was hard watching from across the street and not being able to get there to help.
On Friday, June 5, Donny and Garnet Heckert, who had been staying in Van Tassell with their daughter, Donna Lloyd for a few days, noticed National Guard trucks and a sheriff's truck, driving around the small town. Donna heard on a scanner that they were trying to get to a couple they believed were landlocked following heavy rains causing flooding down Van Tassell Creek from the Kirtley area. They had been unable to get a response by phone as that service was out. Sheriff Deputy Kelly Dean stopped at Donna's home to inquire about them and found the couple there. The road to their home, located three and a half miles northeast of Van Tassell, was impassable due to a washed out bridge. Debris had been left on trees along the creek and a large trucktire stock tank is hanging in a tree across from the house. The foundation of the family home that had been originally built in the late 1880's is presently unliveable because the basement walls caved in due to the 5 1/2 feet of water that washed in. They were very grateful for a team of youths and an adult from the Casper LDS Church, who used five-gallon buckets to carry out the mud left behind in the basement by the flood waters. The Heckerts are only able to reach their country place by driving through neighborning ranch roads and are currently living in Van Tassell.
Richard and Carol Schroeder, who are Manville residents, had received a flood warning on Wednesday evening, June 3. The rain began with intermittent hail about 9:15 p.m. Richard had to drive to Orin Junction to pick up the Casper Star Tribune for distribution in Lusk about the time it had started hailing. Lightning lit the skies without stopping and the hail was so loud the thunder couldn't be heard. Despite all this, Manville residents never lost electrical power. Carol discovered the flood waters had come up to the third step of the porch steps of their house. The basement soon filled with water. By now, Richard called and explained he couldn't get home due to the culverts being washed out on the highway just west of the Town of Manville. From her home she could see the boat rescue of Manville residents, Lamberts and Darlene Morgan. She stayed up all night but did not choose to evacuate. She was concerned for a feral neighborhood cat that had just had a litter of five kittens, and later marveled that despite the massive flood waters, had been able to move the tiny baby kittens to a safe place, and actually survived. The full impact of the situation did not hit her until she watched her disabled car being towed away. Schroeders' home, nearly 100 years old, suffered sufficient damage to require too much work to justify repairing. They were grateful for the help in having their basement pumped out, and the volunteers from a church and WWC inmates, who carried things up from their basement.
Rick Shaw alerted a friend living on the north side of the Niobrara River, with a phone call about 1:52 a.m. By 2:30, the flood waters had reached Lusk and action was needed to get livestock loaded into a horse trailer and one with horses already loaded, driven to a higher elevation. His buddy's livestock trailers were parked on the hill beside the old Silver Cliff Hotel, where it was apparent that returning home wasn't going to happen right away.
The Lusk Herald
August 19, 2015
Flood Story #8 by Phyllis Hahn
In the early morning hours of June 4, a friend of Ben Bonsell had gone to Manville to help someone with flooding problems and was advised to call his parents because the wall of water was headed to Lusk. Bob and Tammy Bonsell received that call about 2:00 a.m. and they went out to move their animals to high ground. They had 13 goats, 3 pigs and about 30 chickens. The level of flood waters was way higher than anything previously experienced and despite being moved, all but 3 goats drowned, all pigs and only two chickens survived (one was found in a vacant house later). One goat named "Lucky" was among the survivors. The hardest part was losing a baby goat named "Rocky" Tammy had given special care to when it was born. Ben and his dad, Bob, were setting up the pump in the basement hoping to get ahead of the flood, but they heard the water coming and all got in their pickups. Ben saw an old wooden shed floating toward him while in the driveway, and turned up Griffith Street. Bob's pickup had water coming over the hood of his truck (a diesel) and water was washing over into the bed in the back. He drove to Main Street and they went to Ben's home on Linn Street, where they spent the rest of the night. In days that followed, the Southern Baptist Flood Recovery team of really nice people worked hard to remediate the problems caused by the waters, cutting out the main floor wall of sheetrock up 18" and removed insulation and treated the areas to kill potential mold. They also filled three dump box trailers with debris and trashed items, including hay embedded in mud. The basement had been finished with two bedrooms, a family room with a big screen TV, washer, dryer, and two freezers full of food. Their garden was doing beautifully and now has only a handful of plants left such as carrots. Help from many sources came during the days that followed: an LDS Church group helped, Matt and Kim Fox brought a group from their church in Douglas to help drain the basement and haul the furniture out, members of athletic teams and coaches in Douglas came to clean and oil tools to prevent rust, the Home Depot crew cleaned the Bonsell's garage and mechanical tools. Many hours were spent in Lusk at many locations by volunteers, which was a great gift from neighboring communities.
Irene Story, who lives on the old Harry Sides place in the Kirtley community about a couple miles south of Melvin ZumBrunnen, heard the heavy rains, that eventually measured 7 inches, begin about 9:00 p.m. in the evening of June 3. A red code alert phone call from the sheriff's office was received at midnight, and phone service from then on was spotty and was not restored fully until the end of July. The amount of water washing over the road, against fences, taking out four water gaps left Irene amazed at the power of the water, surprised it could float fence posts so far. The gravel in the driveway to her garage was badly washed. Her basement had water in it and she attempted to clear it out with her Shop Vac, carrying buckets up the steps and was very grateful when her neighbor, Melvin ZumBrunnen arrived with a sump pump that did the job in a hurry. Basement items were stored high enough there was no loss there. Due to fences being damaged, seven head of livestock had drifted but were located later and all were safe. The drainage carried the flood waters over roads, washing out two large culverts, leaving Van Tassell country roads in bad shape.
A red code alert call to the John DeGering ranch in the middle of the night alerted them to the possibility of flooding on June 3, 2015. Their home is located about 150 feet from Old Woman Creek, north of Lusk. This dry creek bed has no water most of the year, but swelled to a quarter of a mile wide as it flooded. His son, Ken DeGering, who lives about two miles away, heard the waters and trees crashing when it arrived about 4:30 a.m. The heavy flow of water carried a lot of old dead trees and debris accumulated from several years of drought, which added to the destruction of fences as it rushed through the property. Some of the dead trees were deposited on Highway 85 where it flowed over the highway, obstructing traffic. The water receded finally mid-morning, leaving fence repair for them to do all summer. The DeGerings felt fortunate they had o livestock in the pastures affected and no serious losses other than lots and lots of fence to repair.
The Lusk Herald
August 26, 2015
Flood Story #9 by Phyllis Hahn
About 3:20 a.m. in the morning of June 4th, the storm whistle blew for a long time alerting Sherry Ellis to some kind of trouble. She went out and saw Shawn Leimser driving down the street and texted his wife, Kresta to find out what was going on. Being informed of the flooding, Sherry realized she needed to check on her horse, Storm, which was stabled in an old plank corral at the sale barn, which is located north of town. The water was too deep for her pickup to negotiate the road leading there. She prevailed upon Cory Clark, who lives nearby, who tried to drive to the sale barn but the water was too deep for him also. Finally about 10:30 a.m. that morning, Sherry was able to get to her horse, riding with Tristan Graham on a four-wheeler as close as possible, and ended up wading through hip-deep water with a strong current to reach her horse's pen. Tristan followed and opened the gate so Sherry could ride Smoke up to Cory Clark's place, where the gelding is now in a safe place. The good news - the Wyoming Team Roping, composed of Rick Shaw, Scott White and sherry Ellis (riding Smoke), placed in the money at State Fair on Thursday, August 13.
Someone pounded on the door of Gail Roland's home in northeast Lusk about 2:30 a.m. in the morning of June 4. By the time she reached the door, that person was gone and she figured there might be a problem at the car wash that she manages, so Gail dressed and started north for some reason instead of the usual drive south, and tried to drive over the overpass but it was blocked off so she turned about on the highway and started back north and heard the ambulance crew yell "You can't go that way!" and something that sounded like "fast water" but Gail couldn't quite understand them. She ran into the coming flood waters, drove about 5 blocks and tried to return home be couldn't due to the fast rising waters. She returned to the blocked off bridge, where she learned of the flash flood warning. She then spent the next the next 45 minutes trying to rouse her son, C.W. by phone. He sleeps on the first floor of the home and is a very sound sleeper. When he woke up, he was angry and upset to realize he'd been left behind and had to deal with many things as he stayed on the phone for a considerable time being told to get the family valuables including Gail's purse, bank account records, and other important items. Gail now realizes that if she had stayed in the basement where the waters swiftly reached a depth of six feet, eight inches, she would have surely drowned. it was a deep regret that the cockatiels that her late husband bought, did not survive as they were left in the basement. The three family dogs were on the ground floor where Gail felt sure they'd "be fine". C.W. stepped outside to check the water and found he was locked out with his items on the doorstep and was finally rescued 2 1/2 hours later, by Jim Pontarola driving a fire truck, who also picked up several others. Later that day, they drove back to their house and waded through 15 inches of water to load up some belongings and had to take the Lance Creek road to get to the fairgrounds, where they spent the night. The dogs, a shepherd pup, Pomeranian Yorkie mix pup and a Heinz 57 (mostly Boxer) were picked up and it became evident that their care was going to be difficult so they were surrendered to be adopted by others, the latter going to a senior needing a companion dog. Gail had hoped to use her fifth wheel trailer for a temporary residence but that wasn't feasible so a friend provided a place to stay for a week. The long process of cleanup was begun the next day, while the basement water was still up to the second step. Many groups from churches, the Red Cross, and the National Guard came to alleviate the problems of residents in the flooded areas with cleanup and distribution of safe drinking water. The same folks who helped clean the Pizza Place after that devastating fire, were first responders to help in this situation. Help also came from folks in Torrington, doing sheetrock work for Gail. James Santistevan helped non-stop for weeks, seeing to the needs of those affected by the flood. Three TDS roll-off dumpsters were filled at Gail's home after removal of damaged carpets, three bedroom sets, washer, dryer, furnace, water heater, wood stove and three generations of Christmas decorations. Gail stated "There is still a lot of work to do, but I couldn't up and leave...this is home". All this after experiencing disasters including several tornadoes, and a hurricane while in boot camp during Marine Corps training, she knows she will survive this.
The Lusk Herald
September 2, 2015
Flood Story #10 by Phyllis Hahn
Charles and Cheri Reese, residents in the ranching community south of Shawnee, had a scary experience due to the flood waters that flowed on June 4. They only had about half an inch of rain at their house that day, but a huge deluge of water came from the Manville area and broke through a dam built in 1956, which measured about 150 yards wide. It had been used for crossing over Muddy Creek for many years, but it got washed out that day. It broke a 1 1/2" water line, which had been trenched into the top to provide water to several pastures. Their son, Brad, who is six' 3" tall, figured he could wade across, pulling three lengths of plastic pipe they had pasted together to repair the broken line that was now visible in the breach of the dam. He shed his heaviest clothing including his shoes and started wading across in the water, which was still moving fast. When he reached the middle where the river channel was, it was over his head. Fortunately he has been a swimmer all of his life and was able to go the short distance until he could walk the bottom again. When he reached the other side, he set a post to brace the line in place and they had to run water through the pipe to get it to sink before temporarily trenching it in again. Weeks later, they were able to do a lasting job of trenching and presently have no plans to replace the huge dam. Crossing muddy Creek now has to be done half a mile below the flooded dam site.
Linda Mitts of Manville, who was working out of Deadwood, S.D., for Oftedal Construction as a heavy equipment operator, developed an anxiety attack for no apparent reason but felt compelled to quit her job and go back home to Manville, Wyoming and family. This was the memorial day weekend. Her boss approved her leaving and she soon found herself in the midst of good and intense family happenings that included a graduation party in Casper, and the birth of two grandchildren in two days. Wednesday morning, June 3, she planted a garden for the first time in 30 years and flowers for the first time in 15 years. The radio had reported 70% chance of rain for the area that evening, but the deluge of 7.58 inches of rain that came in 2 1/2 hours with lightning above the clouds so active it was never dark, far exceeded the prediction. Water started coming in their basement, despite the fact they had built a concrete retaining wall around their place a couple years ago after a lesser flood. A portion of Highway 20 just west of Manville had washed away by the massive flood waters, and was pouring into several residences. Her husband, Butch Mitts, saw the fire truck driven by Richard Ladwig and went to help with rescue efforts. Linda called her son, Chance Phillips in Casper and asked him to bring a big pump to help get the water out of their basement. He arrived by driving a secondary road and was able to save the upper part of the house from damage above the five feet of water that had flowed into the basement. Linda found herself directing traffic in the early morning hours. About midnight, Officer Fry had pounded on the door of Terry Allbright's home in Lusk and told him Richard Ladwig needed his canoe in Manville immediately to rescue folks who were badly flooded. When he arrived in Manville, Terry recruited Linda to help paddle although she had no experience. She got a fast lesson in maneuvering in flood waters and they checked the residence of Jayci Phillips, but they had already been evacuated, and then checked on Gerald and Lori Carpenter, who were found sitting safely in their pickup, watching the flood waters.
Their next concern was for the Mitt's two horses. They were penned in a corral with a gate tied below the level of the water. It was apparent the animals were chilled and lethargic from water that had up to 8 inches of hail floating on top, and were in it up to their necks. They finally got the gate open against the strong current. Terry said, "Sometimes people say this is my first rodeo, but this is the first time I've rescued horses with a canoe". It was a tough challenge to get them to move out of the corner they were jammed into and they had a terrible time getting them through the gate after getting it finally opened. The first horse, Tommy, was swept under the canoe and was too tired to swim, but was finally pulled over two fences into McCleery's pasture, where it was chest high but was cut loose to move to safety. It took three tries before they were successful in getting the second horse, Andy, out of the corral, and it swam down the main Street of Manville to the Town Hall, where they walked him till he was dry. Andy was loaded into a horse trailer for safe keeping the rest of the night. The garden and flowers were washed away but the people and horses survived. Later, Terry remarked the road was dry when he got to Manville but on his return, Highway 270 had 1 1/2 feet if water on it and saw a picnic table float by right in front of him as he drove and a large propane tank was floating nearby also. It was ironic that the only thing in the basement of the True Value Store, that was not lost to the flood, was the canoe that Terry Allbright had removed to help rescue folks.
The Lusk Herald
September 9, 2015
Flood Story #11 by Phyllis Hahn
The Gaukel family received a call, warning them of the weather system in the late evening of June 3, but returned to bed. At 12:32 a.m., they received a text from Jack Lambert frantically asking them to "call 911 - we're flooded!" Carol Lambert had started out sitting on her bed, where she'd been safe a couple years before during the flood of 2013. It wasn't long before the mattress started floating and she had to move to the counter of the bathroom lavatory. The water had about a foot of hail floating on the top, which made it extremely cold. At 10:00 p.m. Jack had gone outside to turn off the power and was pounded by the intense hailstorm and got soaked and chilled in his effort. Joe McDaniel was called to bring his boat to Manville. The Highway Patrol detained Gaukels until they explained they had been summoned to help Lamberts and they were then allowed to enter the town. Julie parked at Richard Ladwig's home and waded through the town and got in McDaniel's boat at 2:30 a.m. when he showed up. They headed to the Lamberts' home and put their cell phones on their coats on top of the trailer before making their way in. At first they were unable to reach them as the door was jammed. They finally busted through the door and had to step aside as things floated out the door. Julie called out "Gramma, it's Julie..." just after Carol had truly given up on being rescued. Lamberts were "blue" from the cold with their legs dangling in the frigid water. McDaniel moved his boat to the back door, where it was closer and they assisted Carol into the boat and then got Jack. Kevin held Carol in his lap when they were loaded into the bucket of the front end loader and then Jack got in with help by Brady Vanderberg for the transfer to the ambulance which took them to the hospital. Kevin Gaukel ended up in another boat that was working with animals that were in peril and met up with the others at the ER. At the Niobrara Health and Life Center, the couple were treated for hypothermia with a core body temperature of 97 degrees and remained overnight. They had no clothes except what they were wearing that night so were grateful to Gary Pfister, who brought clothes for Jack and April Currier who provided clothes for Carol. They were fortunate to have a friend offer them a place to stay for a time until they relocated in an apartment the first part of July, where they remained until they found a permanent home in Lusk. In addition to the trailer house, they lost all of their furniture, two cars, tools, shop building, and a camper. The only items saved were pictures on the wall and dished that were on top shelves. The Lamberts felt they may have lost things but were "blessed to be here".
The Lusk Herald
September 23, 2015
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
In the early hours of Wednesday, June 4, 2015, Jim Santistevan rang the door bell at the home of Tom and Rickie Linneman and said "Get your mom out right now, there's a lot of water coming!" They dressed quickly and drove to the home of Nellie Pfister, who was a long-time resident on the lush green meadowland by the Niobrara river. Three vehicles, including an antique '56 Chevy pickup of Tom's, and a couple cars were housed in the garage there, which Tom immediately started to move to higher ground, while Rickie began the difficult job of waking her mom. Nellie had spent the day before cleaning house for expected company and was in deep sleep. She hadn't heard the phone ring repeatedly which several people had tried to reach her. She had been evacuated before for flooding in 1991 and survived fairly well, so wasn't too worried about the situation. Rickie grabbed clothing for her mother, pillows, meds, oxygen for the night, dog food and Melody, a much-loved pet and Nellie went in her night clothes to stay overnight at her daughter and son-in-law's home. They started moving the vehicles to their home on Elm Street, when they began hearing the roar of the water and pulled into the parking lot behind Fresh Start Service Station. It was an amazing sight as 50 gallon drums, washing machines, refrigerators, garbage cans and other large debris flowed down main Street to the intersection at Third and Main, where it turned the corner and followed the highway east. Tom, as an employee, decided he had better check on the business building of Byan Systems, which is located south of Highway 20 on the east edge of Lusk. The water had a foggy mist above it and they began hearing the sirens go off about 4:30 a.m. and saw the power go off in the downtown business district. They returned home until daylight, when they picked up Nellie and her daughter, Pat Pfaffenheuser and parked on top of the hill about the soil conservation District, when they saw the Cummins house break up and float by, with the last piece, the roof, making a blast as it hit the overpass, which could be heard crumbling for awhile before completely collapsing onto the railroad tracks.
Many of the people who turned out to check on the extent of damage of the flooding found themselves helping where they could. Rickie and Tom Linneman, Guy Judy and Pat Pfaffenheuser assisted Kathy Johnson later in the challenging rescue of the two dogs held at the animal shelter near the Byans System building.
On Friday night, Rickie and Tom went to Nellie's severely damaged home to check on the situation there. They had to break open the door and with considerable effort, crawled through everything, which had been totally rearranged and thrown about. The power was still on and they notified the city to turn off the power so it would be safe to enter as there was still a great amount of water in the structure. Beds were jammed against the walls, ten china cabinets with her treasured collection of salt and pepper shakers were scattered about. It was a strange sight as water was in the bathtub and washing machine but not in the sinks and no water would flow out of the pipes. Mud had packed the closet doors shut and clothing was too mud-soaked to be saved. Water had filled rooms to the ceiling and they found prescription bottles on the top of ceiling fans. The guest room beds looked fine with bedding in place, but when one sat on a bed, they were immediately soaked with water from the saturated mattress. The late Jay Linneman was able to retrieve two keepsakes, the ashes of Rick Pfister and the picture of the Pfister girls' sister, Tonie, who died in infancy. Nellie Pfister, who visited the site on Saturday, slipped on the slimy floor and strained her wrist, adding "insult to injury" in the situation and she was fortunate to be able to stay at Rickie's home after that. Nellie was an avid collector of antiques and had accumulated many precious pieces including a secretary that has a round glass in the door. Her daughter, Pat hopes to be able to renovate that piece. Following the loss of most of her household goods, friends have donated bedroom and living room furniture, which she greatly appreciated.
The location of Nellie's home has an interesting history. In excavating a crawl space below the house, the skeleton of a buffalo was found about four feet below the surface. They were only able to retrieve the head, which was sent to the University of Wyoming, where it was identified as an animal that had roamed the area in prehistoric times.
The Lusk Herald
September 30, 2015
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
During the early morning hours of June 4, 2015, Ron and Holly Nelson's doorbell rang and they were warned of the possibility of "flooding, much worse this time". They quickly dressed, grabbed dog food and took their pets to Ron's classroom (high school shop) with food and water and ran home again. There, they packed clothes, warm socks and valuables. Then they joined their son and grandson, Dean and Jathan Nelson, to help neighbor Ty Thompson get his horses and roping steers into livestock trailers to move to higher ground north of the railroad. When they returned to their home, the water was already level with the railroad tracks and the streets were covered with water. They drove down to the bridge north and around the swimming pool, where Holly started to get out to check on the flooding by the walking bridge across the usually quiet Niobrara River. Ron hollered at her "Get in here, there's water coming!" Holly saw a ten foot wall of water headed right at them and jumped back in and they drove quickly back to the tire shop, run by Danny Matney. A number of people from the north side of the highway overpass had found refuge there. Matney had opened up his shop, where they could get warm, were allowed to use the restrooms, and found County Commissioner Pat and Joann Wade had come into Lusk with food. Several had been rescued with a front end loader, including Clarabelle Davis, Bill Kennedy and the Ty Molzahn family. Others at the tire shop were Ty Thompson, Dean and Jathan Nelson and even Billy Fitzwater, who had driven down from Newcastle to go to work at his job for the railroad. He kept getting calls from the office in eastern Nebraska, advising him to get the trucks from the depot and help rescue people. He had trouble getting them to understand it was too late, the depot was almost submersed under water. Terilou Nelson, also a railroad employee, was called out by the railroad to go to work and was gone three days on her job due to the flooding. The traffic over the overpass on Hwy 85 was closed and many stranded people watched as the water began to recede with vehicles floating and bobbing around with lights going on and off as their systems shorted out, which was a strange sight. The Nelsons were on top of the overpass, when the power went off and they saw the roof of a house with a chimney and satellite dish still attached float by and hit the north side causing it to shake as it plugged up the walking path below. The water, still high, was diverted to the opening for the trains.
The Nelsons transported two pickup loads of people by way of the county road past Cory Clark's place, going through his pasture to get back to Hwy 20, where they exited by the city airport.
The Nelsons ate breakfast Wednesday morning at the Out Post Cafe and were invited to be house guests of Bill and Marlene Dockery for several days until they found a temporary place to rent. It took another day before they could get back into their house to check on the damage. The couple deeply appreciated the help given by many who came to volunteer in the cleanup; many friends such as fellow teachers, students, former students, and the LDS crew, the Southern Baptist flood recovery crew, who all helped them and their neighbors. Blaine and Greta Ayers had come from Guernsey with his heavy equipment (Back hoe and flat bed) which was used to retrieve Ty Thompson's horse trailer, and a storage building of Robert Brown's, which had floated into Nelson's pasture. They were amazed at one crew, which was made up of retired persons from all professions, dedicated to helping in disasters, including the devastation in New York on 9-11.
Ron and Holly came to the decision after a few days that their house was now unlivable, including floors that were buckling. They called an insurance adjuster as the place was one of two in the flood plain of the Niobrara River that had insurance coverage for flooding. A lot of cleaning up including pastures that accumulated gravel, debris, repair of corrals, fence lines, etc. is left to do, after moving to a different address at a higher elevation. They had loved the home that held a lot of memories, where they raised their children and spent the better part of their lives, but have moved to a new home where they are able to take wonderful memories and a lot of love and support from their community.
The Lusk Herald
October 7, 2015
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
In the early morning hours of June 4, 2015, Randy Hutchison called his friend, Brad Smyth, a retired SourceGas employee, and urgently advised him "Look outside". Smyth could see the power was off and grabbed a flashlight and water was all he could see outside. He lives on South Oak in the 500-year flood plain and quickly decided to check his basement. As he started down the stairs, he saw water seeping under the back door and placed towels there to block it. In the basement, water was seeping in. He began to grab important items stored there and started up the steps with his hands full and trying to hold the flashlight when he heard a "whoosh". He check the toilet and saw water shooting up two feet into the air from the city sewer. The basement filled rapidly with very cold sewage and water that soon was waist high. Smyth realized he was close to getting hypothermia in the frigid water and went upstairs to dry out and then warm up and then waited till the sun came up. There was no heat as the furnace was underwater. He had left the basement with the freezer, washer and dryer floating. He was able later to replace the capacitator relay in one appliance but had to trash the other two. He had just purchased a new generator, which was still in the box. He called his son, Andrew, who works in Cheyenne and learned the roads in and out of Lusk were closed, but was able to get special permission to leave to go to Scottsbluff, Nebr., and return after getting supplies and a shop vac. He went downstairs and then started in on the challenge of getting the basement emptied of the sewer water and finally quit at 11:00 p.m. Although 16 inches were left, he was exhausted. In the morning, he found the level had receded to 4 inches, and decided to find a place to have breakfast and was glad to see only an inch left when he came home. His friend, Randy Hutchison, assisted in the cleanup and Brad Smyth stated he gave him "special thanks for his help!" and feels he is very fortunate to be a survivor and didn't lose his home.
Randy Hutchison had retired from his 30 year job with the railroad on Tuesday before the flood occurred. He postponed his planned fishing trip to help Smyth and others, who experienced damage caused by the flood. He finally was able to schedule his fishing trip to catch wall-eye at Cottonwood/Stever near Merriman, Nebr. He was about to quit for the day, when a strike on his line told him he had a big one. he reeled in a tiger muskie, measuring 47 1/2 inches long, that weighed 27 1/2 lbs. It is the largest fish he has ever caught, but according to his friend Brad Smyth, "If anyone ever deserved it, he did!"
The Lusk Herald
October 7, 2015
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
The sudden deluge of rain and hail that descended on the town of Manville on the night of June 3, 2015, came without warning for the residents. About 9:00 p.m., Manville resident Frances Tschacher received a call from her son, Lee Tschacher, who lives four miles west of town, warning her to "get in her car and get to higher ground". The rain had washed stacked bales across the railroad already, at his place. Frances looked out and saw water in her yard. Her car was across the street in her daughter Judy's garage. Judy joined her mother in the car and they drove east to a hill where Cliff Wilkisons had lived. They parked, and walked down the hill to see what was going on. They could see cars moving and soon saw a pickup slide off the road. The next car was occupied by her son, Lee and his sons, J.R. and Teagan. Lee immediately went to turn off the power to the house, which Frances had planned to do, but the water was already up to her knees. After Lee disconnected the electricity, he headed back home, where he found the water had surrounded his place. They finally drove back to Judy's house, where Frances found rest on a couch. Butch Mitts came by to check on them and they looked out and could see the water was receding by then. Lee returned at daylight and opened the basement door and they were greeted by the sight of a foam snowman floating in the water. On the west side of the house, the water had made a hole right beside the entrance box for electricity. Frances had ordered garden sheds, which were still packaged and one bundle had become undone and floated around the gazebos and west steps, stopping by plum trees. The water reached a depth of four feet in the garage. Her neighbor, Chuck Sides had not moved his pickup and the water had come up to the door handles. Frances stated she had never seen so much debris, which required a lot of help cleaning up. Lee and his sons and Weldon Tschacher spent four days taking things out of the basement, filling his horse trailer two times. Frances was grateful for the wonderful help given by many volunteers. Chris Jensen came with a vac truck and emptied 40,000 gallons of water from her basement. They had found her chest freezer, filled with food, floating in the water. It was placed outside in the yard as well as a small freezer that was kept in the garage. The food was lost but amazingly, both still work. Her furnace and water heater were a loss. Frances has spent the summer washing, cleaning, and trying to save what she could. A number of items in her yard were washed away; a bench, a big tree stump destined to be firewood, two lattices, etc. The garden was badly messed up with junk, and long grasses carried by the flood waters. Seeds for the garden had been in the basement waiting to go in the ground. It was a poor gardening year, with more hail that came again later in the summer, ruining the corn crop. Strangely, some petunias of many colors as well as snapdragons came up volunteer in a stock tank. In late October, the raspberries are blooming as well as roses. A treasured clematis plant did not survive the flood. In Mid-October, the Manville town tractor took 12 loads of debris to put into the TDS box located by the school building.
Frances reflects that she lost a lot of "stuff", but especially regrets the loss of the fifty American flags with an all-important list of the graves for the flags to be placed beside in the Manville cemetery, a tradition she has kept for many years. She had inherited the volunteer job from Ihla Johnson and it is hoped that others will step in and help in this important way to honor those who served our country in the military.
The Lusk Herald
October 28, 2015
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
Arlene Arends, a resident in a trailer home at 203 Daley Street, received a call from dispatch warning of possible flooding in the early morning hours of June 4, 2015. She didn't think it would be necessary to evacuate but stayed up and sat at her kitchen table. Her foster son, Marion Bergheger, was sleeping so she decided not to accept the offer by neighbor, Keith Lemons who came by to see if she needed help to leave.
She soon realized the water was up to her porch and her feet were getting wet so she sat on a kitchen chair, and the water soon came up to her waist. Arlene's daughter, Lavonne Skrukrud, called dispatch to go get her mom. Jim Jordan arrived with his loader and a helper, Frank Sherman, who had to put the porch steps back in place before he could walk her out and assist her into the bucket. The water had washed the metal steps away. By this time the water was above her waist. Her freezer and other things on the porch were floating. She was transported to an ambulance to get warm until they were told to get off the bridge, which was in danger of collapsing. The Northside Tire Shop had been opened up for those needing refuge from the flood. She stayed there until the water receded and tried to go back home, but found it not possible, so was welcomed into the home of her sister, Verna Hawley, who lived close by on North Pine, a higher street. She spent the next three months as her sister's guest, until a double-wide trailer was situated also on Pine Street beside her sister's home. The flooded trailer was beyond restoration and was torn down. Help from her foster son Marion Bergheger, daughter and son-in-law, Lavonne and Todd Skrukrud, FEMA and the Flood Recovery fund made it possible to have a new place to live. She was fortunate to receive help from nieces, nephew, daughter and friends in cleanup efforts. After they had helped Arlene, they also helped Nellie Pfister and Keith Lemons, who lived nearby. On reflection of her experience, Arlene said "I can't believe how it smelled (sewer water)...it was horrible!" The terrible odor was noticeable for over a week according to many living in the flood plain.
The Lusk Herald
November 18, 2015
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
At 10:30 p.m. on June 3, 2015, Jim Jordan, owner of Jordan Automotive, received a call from Rich Grant Transportation Company, reporting a semi-truck headed east on Highway 20 had washed off the road by Manville. Jordan had also received 911 reverse calls telling of a flood alert. Responding to the call, he drove past Geof Cummins' home by the Niobrara River bed, noting only a few inches of water flowing there at that time. When he arrived with his Peterbilt wrecker at the intersection of Hwys 20 and 270 at Manville, water rushed over his front bumper slowing him down fast. He was able to pull the semi-truck out and got him through the flood waters. Boats were being launched at Hwy 270 near the Manville Community Church. Niobrara County Commissioner Richard Ladwig was directing rescue efforts there. Jordan was asked if his wrecker would do any good in the deep water, but the answer was no, so Jordan returned to Lusk to get his 950 Cat front end loader. Jordan's helper, Frank Herman followed him back in the wrecker. The wrecker was stationed at the Three Sisters Cafe in Manville, which was spared the heavy flow of water leaving their ground floor dry. The Wyoming Game & Fish Warden Brady Vandeberg got in with Jordan to assist in rescue efforts. Their first stop was at the home of Darlene Morgan. The bucket was lowered and Brady made his way over into the bucket to help Darlene in and they transported her to one of the two waiting ambulances parked by the church. They took Jack and Carol Lambert from the canoe they were in and drove them to a waiting ambulance. They checked several more residences, finding all others had found safe haven elsewhere. They checked at the railroad on Terry Allbright and Linda Mitts, who were in the process of rescuing horses that had been trapped in a corral. After checking with Commissioner Ladwig, they returned to Lusk, where they stopped at Fresh Start gas station on Third and Main Street, where they left the wrecker parked to black traffic with the emergency lights flashing, because of the high flash flood waters already crossing the street.
Frank Sherman got in with Jordan in the front end loader and they drove to the Hwy 85 overpass which crossed over the Niobrara River and the two sets of railroad tracks. Railroad ties that had floated with the flood waters were diverting the water down Main Street. Cory Wilcox, who had been driving an ambulance, asked Jordan to push the railroad ties aside so the water could flow down Griffith Blvd. instead of Main, which was flooding the business district. Wilcox then asked them to use the wrecker to go to the hospital to get more blankets for the ambulances, as victims were badly chilled by the water, which had mixed with immense amounts of hail. Lavonne Skrukrud was deeply concerned for her mother, Arlene Arends, as they couldn't get boats to her. They drove over the overpass to pick her up, with Frank Sherman crawling over into the bucket to assist Arends in. The water was so deep, the bucket was above Arends' car, which was submerged and not even visible. She was transported to a waiting ambulance. Their next rescues were for Clarabelle Davis and Bill Kennedy and then to Denny Hable, where the ground was so soft, they buried the front end loader in the mud and it was stuck. While sitting there waiting out the situation, they heard a very loud noise as the overpass collapsed, coming down on the railroad and leaving a huge gap in Hwy 85.
They saw a semi-truck drive to the edge of the chasm and immediately, the driver quickly backed all the way down to the Wyoming Highway shop safely averting what could have been a terrible accident. After daylight, a county vehicle driven by Kurt Lancaster brought a font-end loader to the railroad tracks after they had been warned to not cross over the river where Cummins' house had been, as it had washed away. Jordan and Sherman waded through water up to their waists to get into the front-end loader that had been dispatched to pick them up. They returned to the wrecker, making certain the ambulances could get back to Main Street south of the overpass. County Commissioner Pat Wade gave them a ride to Jordan's shop to pick up an excavator (an overgrown backhoe that runs on tracks). Jordan got permission from the Highway Dept. to remove a tree by the State Shop next to the overpass because they couldn't get past to clean out debris that had been carried by the waters; large objects included propane tanks, railroad ties, etc.
An effort to reach residents in the Niobrara Addition required use of roads around the flooded area. Jordan took his excavator to the bridge next to the location where Cummins' house had been, to remove a pickup that had washed under the bridge and was diverting water. After it was removed, they were able to walk over the bridge and return to the front end loader, leaving the excavator, which they picked up later that day. It was time to go home and get warm and dry.
The next morning, a city employee requested help removing motor homes and vehicles that had piled up behind the Highway Brake and Alignment Shop so the city electricians could repair and restore power there. The next request was for removal of a railroad sea container that had washed up in front of the business building south of the Laundromat. It had ended up on top of a pickup, which was totaled. The container was picked up and returned to the yard of the railroad, where it belonged. The city also asked Jordan to remove another sea container that washed to one side of the street leading to the Women's Center, partially blocking that street.
Jordan hired Martin Fitzwater and Travis Fitzwater to help in the cleanup work they were facing. The next several days were spent using the skid loader, removing damaged goods from downtown businesses on Main Street, which was put into the TDS dumpsters. The city requested help in removing a dump truck out of the city yard by the power plant to determine what vehicles could be salvaged. Jordan's 950 Cat was disabled during its use and had to be repaired. While helping the Honor Farm with cleanup by the overpass, Jordan's heavy excavator fell through to the bottom of the river and had to be pulled out with his big white Peterbilt wrecker. Overall, the Jordan Automotive crew gave an immense amount of time and effort in the rescue of so many people and cleanup in the aftermath.
The longtime business, Jordan Automotive, presently provides services from towing, wreckers, the use of front end loaders, excavator, a skidloader, backhoe, side and belly dumpsters, a 950 front end loader, and a 772 road grader, many of which were in demand in the restoration of the Niobrara community.
Jordan commented "A lot of people stepped up and helped in the cleanup! That's part of being a community."
The Lusk Herald
November 25, 2015
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
On June 3, 2015, owner of the Silver Cliff Vet Clinic, Veterinarian George Harty and his wife, Deb, sat up until midnight, watching the skies in the west toward Manville, realizing there was severe weather in that direction. They had received reverse 911 calls, warning of possible road washouts and flash flooding. They finally went to bed, waking up a couple hours later, and they drove down to the clinic to check it out. The water hadn't risen yet so they returned home wondering what was going to happen. They were able to sleep deeply until 4:00 a.m., when they heard a lot of cars driving by and heard the roar of the flood waters, thinking "that doesn't sound good". At this time they drove to Third and Main Street, where they saw a depth of two and a half feet of water already flowing down main Street.
They went home to evaluate the situation, glad they only had two client horses in the barn, called the owner in Colorado and advised him to wait to come for them. They went out at first light to assess the damage and saw water running about half a mile wide near the clinic. At 6:30 a.m. the water had dropped down to a few inches over the east bridge over the railroad and decided to avoid the bridge and drove across Lisa Mellott's pasture, then went on a county road north of Node to access the clinic from that direction. The Hartys had to wade through knee deep water in the clinic, which had dirt and gravel badly washed out on the north side from the parking lot. Walking into the clinic, they saw their mud boots floating around, wishing they were on their feet. They found the two horses were alive and well and haltered them before turning them loose in a pasture on higher ground. They returned and found their two "clinic cats" and put them into carriers to take home for a month until it was feasible to get them back to the clinic. They felt fortunate that they had no other client animals at this time to care for. They did have two goats, used for weed control around the outside and lost one through drowning in the flood. Pat Jordan, who lives near the clinic, helped loosen the one surviving goat that was trapped and helped gather things and store them higher that needed to be secure. The Hartys were quite chilled by then and went home for dry clothes to get warm, after the water receded. Later they were finally able to drive back to the clinic. Some of the records were lost, but a lot of important items were stored high. The doors held and only a foot of water entered the office. The computer survived and some records had to be photo copied. Drugs were put into a secure location and cleanup began. They had lost their parking lot. Some records and medicines were lost but other important things had been stored high enough to be safe. The drying out took three weeks. Restoration of the structure began with walls and insulation being removed up two feet high before replacing with new materials.
The morning after, help began arriving. Fifteen to twenty friends came to help pile junk and sort through for several days. Some of these were George Harty's brother Bob Harty of Lingle, Mike and Jenny Young of Jay Em who brought a small tractor, Britt and Arlie Frye brought landscaping equipment from Douglas, Jim Holmes returned from Texas to help saying "Do you need anything?", bringing a skid steer and dump truck, which was used about three weeks to remove debris.
Jim Jordan used his equipment to pull Harty's 20 foot stock trailer, which had washed down into the sale barn corral about 300 yards away where it lodged against a power pole. They had to put cargo straps under it to lift it off. They found a stuffed toy on the running board of a vehicle, and decided it must be one that belonged to Geof Cummins' child, one of the few things he was able to recover after his home washed totally away. Harty's 30 foot stock trailer was also washed away and at the time of this writing, is still in the repair shop.
The Lusk Herald
December 9, 2015
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
Pat Jordan, owner of transportation and construction companies, lives just outside of the acknowledged flood plain on North Fifth Street. He received the first reverse 911 call just after midnight, but was not too concerned at that time. A second call came at 3:21 p.m. and he still didn't go outside to check the situation. Shortly afterward, he was called by Steve Haworth and Pat noted the power was off, and he could hear running water outside. He opened his camper door and looked outside, saw the ground was wet, and could hear a distant roar of the oncoming flood waters. He advised Steve to leave immediately, grabbed his St. Bernard dog, "Hope", and got in his pickup, drove to the intersection, and realized it wasn't wise to go upstream. He then drove around the block honking his horn to rouse neighbors and alert them to the situation. The water was already high enough that he decided to head for higher ground on top of George Harty's field nearby, and after wading through high water, unlatched gates to allow livestock to find higher ground. he called Harty and learned there were no animals at risk in the vet clinic.
Ultimately, Jordan lost both of his campers, and a storage building besides other personal possessions because of the flood. The only clothing he saved was the work clothing he was wearing and whatever was in his Dodge pickup after leaving the camper. For a few days, he lived in his cab-over truck at the fairgrounds and kenneled his dog there also. Tim Brauhm of Guernsey loaned him the use of a camper for living quarters. Loren Frye, Kurt Lancaster, Chuck Bruch and Dale Jordan helped Pat Jordan in the cleanup of his property. He was also grateful for the help given by Brenda Metcalf, who put Jordan's business numbers in order so he could qualify for FEMA.
Jordan got permission to use a Kerry Baker Construction truck and trailer and joined others in helping pump out basements of homes where water would come back in and needed to be evacuated again, starting with Clarabelle Davis' home and moved on to others, including Jewell Lashmett's home. Jordan also vacced out the pits in the Highway Brake and Alignment garage. The flood had raised the water table, which resulted in having to remove the flood water repeatedly.
Reflecting on the experience, Pat Jordan stated "If we learn anything from all this, we only lost stuff".
The Lusk Herald
December 16, 2015
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
Ben Hanson, son of a longtime Niobrara ranching family, lives about two miles from the intersection of Hwy 85 and 270 on Young Woman Creek. Driving home late the night of June 3, he noted an unusually active lightning storm that permanently lighted up the sky in the distance. He was awakened in the early morning hours, by the sound of cans falling off shelves in his basement. Looking out, he realized his house was now "on an island" with a raging river on both sides. Ben's young female border collie pup was leaning against the house on the top step to stay out of the water. He was advised to stay put until a neighbor, J.V. Boldon, who was living on the Old Dainton place, arrived with his pickup with a four-wheeler in the back, which he used to rescue Ben from his stranded location and assess the damage. The barns were under three to four feet of water so they turned their attention to other problems. They found twenty cows bawling down by the creek in distress because their calves had floated away and subsequently drowned and were buried by silt. An additional 9 steers were lost in another pasture. Old woman Creek was flowing heavily over the Hwy 270 bridge. Neighbor Logan Heth's two pickups had floated away and were rolled into balls, stuck amongst the trees up the creek from Ben's place. Later, they also found two dams had washed out. Ben took their vac truck to Lusk to assist in the pumping of water and while he was helping empty out basements in town, his dad and brother kept up with ranching chores. Repairs at the home place include replacing or repairing fencing and over 40 water gaps, (where fences cross gullies).
Creek water flows from Young Woman Creek, into Old Woman Creek, into the Cheyenne River and eventually empties into the Angastorra Dam in South Dakota, where the level is now at an unusually high level. It is said, that one can ride possibly all the way to the South Dakota border without opening gates, due to the damage done to fencing by flood waters. Ranchers will be "fixing fence" for a long time but some feel fortunate for good cattle prices and lots of green grass this summer, compared to the drought of 2012.
The Lusk Herald
January 13, 2016
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
Richard Ladwig of Manville returned to the Niobrara Community to live in 1990, after twenty-two years in the Air Force, and about that time began as a weather watcher, with annual training in the spring by instructors from the National Weather Service in Cheyenne.
The night of June 3, 2015, he noted the start of the rain and hail storm. His rain gauge, eventually measured over 7 inches. Ladwig donned his slicker and went out and realized the water was coming up fast in the Town of Manville and called James Santistevan, emergency management Coordinator. The Lusk Fire Dept. sent out two fire trucks to aid in rescue operations and the Manville 5 ton fire truck was put into service. In many places the water was just too deep for vehicles and boats were called into service: Kevin and Jule Gaukel of Keeline, came with their fishing boat, Terry Allbright, of Lusk, with a canoe, Joe McDaniel, of Lusk, with a fishing boat, Chuck Sides borrowed a neighbor's boat in Manville and used snow shovels for paddles and Billy Hite had a power boat.
Water draining from heavy rain in the west of town by Lee Tschacher's home place brought straw from harvesting, and mixed with the dense hail, made it difficult if not impossible to operate the boats well. Jim Jordan, of Lusk, brought his loader, which was used to transport people from their residences to the ambulance, which had been parked at the Town Hall on Main Street. The Three Sisters Cafe stayed open all night to provide warmth and refuge from the storm. The water was even touching the walls above the foundation of the Manville Town Hall, and was level clear to the Union Pacific Railroad, which cuts through the town on the north end of main Street. Santistevan had notified the railroad, warning them of the heavy rains with water over the railroad tracks in places and train traffic was shut down. A command post was established at the Town Hall. Considerable time had passed since Terry Allbright and Linda Mitts had gone to rescue her horses that were trapped in a corral. Ladwig became deeply concerned for their safety and was about to give up hope when they finally showed up after he sent Jordan to check on them.
The situation had begun to quiet down, when J.T. Spivey driving from the west came into the cafe to report that he had driven across the highway and it was washing badly. A fire truck with flashing lights was dispatched to the highway to block traffic just in time as the highway gave way and fell apart, where the driver had just barely managed to drive across.
Early the next morning, the State of Wyoming disaster command Center sent Homeland Security Director Cameron and Adjutant General of the National Guard Riner. They brought swift water rescue crews from Cheyenne and Casper and the National Guard brought heavy trucks and they went into recovery mode and stayed in Lusk until after response mode was achieved.
Many volunteers and disaster recovery groups began pouring into the community. FEMA Region 8 Charles Baird arrive Saturday to assess the recovery situation and visited every building from Main Street to the City Shop in Lusk. He was amazed at the activity already taking place and has visited numerous times since. Ladwig commented "We've had so much support for Niobrara County". FEMA's assistance is intended for individuals. As of January 5, FEMA individuals have received $1,182,458. They have approved loans for homes in the amount of $1,418,000 and SBA loans have been approved for businesses in the amount of $442,900. There are currently 12 FEMA trailers located in and around Lusk, occupied by residents who need to find permanent places to live sometime during the coming year.
The Lusk Herald
January 20, 2016
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
Danny Matney, who moved with his parents to Niobrara County about 16 years ago, was living with his fiance', Cassandra (who had moved to Lusk about three years ago and is a Lingle native), in a rental trailer house in the flood plain near the old sale barn in East Lusk at the time of the June 4th flood. He is a Lusk Volunteer Fireman, but didn't hear the first page go off, but awakened about 3:00 a.m. when he heard chatter on his pager. He got up and checked the situation in town and saw the water reaching Body Builder's Body Shop on Elm Street and called Cassandra, told her to pack a bag as they needed to evacuate immediately. They didn't know what was in store but took action to be prepared for any emergency although the water hadn't reached the trailer house yet. They left in ten minutes after Danny got back to the trailer house and found it was not possible to cross the railroad by the vet clinic and tried the road to the gun club but the tracks were gone there. They had their dog, Peeta, with them and drove through Tom Wasserburger's pasture to the Kaltenheuser Road which brought them to the Northside Tire shop, Danny's place of business on the North end of Lusk's Main Street. They compared notes with Dean Nelson and Ty Thompson, both resident of the flooded part of North Lusk. Two Lusk ambulances manned by Johnny Krein and Cory Wilcox, were stationed on the South side of the overpass, and were occupied by people who had been rescued from their flooded homes. Danny and Cassandra opened the tire shop and provided a warm place for people displaced by the flood, served lots of coffee, and helped people dry their wet socks before they were finally transported to the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds building was soon set up with bedding, food and a row of porta-potties as the sewer and water supplies were badly compromised by the huge wall of water that had rushed through town. Cory Wilcox, EMT director, and Dean Nelson were actually standing on the overpass when it began to collapse. Nicole Graham, who lives across the street from the Northside Tire Shop, and Cassandra watched the overpass go down. They saw a propane tank go screaming and hissing as it was torn loose from its stationary place and floated wildly on the huge wave of muddy, stinky flood waters.
About an hour and a half later Cassandra called her mother, Tammi Harshberger, in Torrington to tell her of the situation in Lusk. Her mother immediately got in touch with different businesses in Goshen County to get money for supplies to bring to Lusk. She made her first trip to Lusk with cases of water and some granola bars. Gregg and Verlene Matney, Danny's parents, let her use their horse trailer to go and pick up more supplies to bring back. All supplies were delivered to the fairgrounds.
The Fire Department was finally able to reach the Molzahn family, which had a frightening experience as they tried to flee the situation and got trapped with their children, dogs, and suitcases piled high. Jim Pontorolo and Chantry Filiner, who were manning Brush1, were able to rescue people from the Niobrara Addition. It was an amazing site to see Brush1, piled with families and what belongings they could grab pull into the tire shop.
Cassandra was very concerned about the situation at the trailer house where precious things including her wedding dress, memorabilia that had belonged to her late grandfather and other keepsakes were stored. Jim Pontarolo and Chantry Filiner, with Tristan Graham, took Brush1 to Matney's trailer house, where they saved the wedding dress, memorabilia, and other keepsakes and also rescued Graham's hound dog and litter of puppies from the sale barn, where they had been kept. It was an emotional moment, when all was saved.
About 10:00 a.m., Danny, the only fireman on the North side of the bridge and who had been in steady contact with Fire Chief John Eddy, spoke with John who said a school bus driven by Barb Rapp was enroute by way of Hwy 270 to the tire shop to get stranded people to transport to the fairgrounds. Cindy Starkey brought a huge pot of chili and hot dogs along with protein bars, coffee and fruit from rural fold in the county area to the tire shop. Danny and Cassandra went back to their trailer house which still had a foot of water to wade through as they went in to load up things to store in the tire shop. The trailer house skirting was ruined but water did not get inside. They stayed for a time with Danny's parents after taking their Great Pyrenees dog, Peeta, for safekeeping to the home of Cassandra's mother. The young couple was fortunate to be in the process of buying a home, which they soon moved into, far from the flood plain.
The Lusk Herald
January 27, 2016
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
About fifteen years ago, Clayton and Karen Sides returned to Niobrara County after he had retired from his position as service manager for Power Service. Karen took on the responsibility of managing the family ranch, which is located about fifteen miles north on the 28 Mile road out of Lusk. On June 5, 2015, they had planned a road trip in their RV to Billings, Mont., to attend a Jehovah Witness convention. Three inches of rain fell on their place on June 4 and the resulting flood waters were increased by drainage from the Manville area. The road out was flooded and they were stranded with all travel plans cancelled. The flood waters had completely washed away fences with posts completely gone along with the wires. A phone call from the Wyoming Women's Center alerted them to the fact that some of their cattle had drifted into the fenced area north of the Center, but were safe from the high water. The livestock had been in an adjoining pasture. The next morning on the 6th, they received another call from Kraig Kraft saying, "Your cattle are eating my lawn." Ranch hand Bob Geise, son Ken and wife Carrie Sides went to Lusk to try to locate the animals, which by then were headed into town. They rounded them up and returned the wandering livestock to the pasture they belonged in. Over two and a half miles of fencing had been totally washed away with no visible evidence that fencing had ever been there. It was "just like virgin land". The flood waters had washed the railroad beds so hard that daylight could be seen under the rails in places. They spent the next months getting the fences in the south pastures mended before frost set in.
A large dam 24 feet high had been built in 1952, and was spring-fed near the ranch headquarters. The three inches of rain caused the old dead cottonwood trees to be deposited on the banks of the usually dry Young Woman Creek, leaving the bottoms clear of drift wood but rocks were washed down into the riverbed. The stair-steps of the spillway were washed badly but the dam held. They were unable to mow the meadowlands due to the debris that had been deposited. They notified the government officials regarding the dam for inspection as required. They had been working 12 hours a day to get the place "back together" so the cattle would not be going into their neighbors' places. Church groups from Douglas, Torrington and Casper arrived to help them and also gave them much-needed moral support. They were using four-wheelers ahead of mowers to clear meadows for mowing and took out 7 pickup loads of cottonwood limbs. Apparently a whirlpool had formed below the dam and it piled twigs into a fascinating circular cone 8 foot high while the large limbs were dumped off on the sides. Fortunately all building on the place were situated above where waters flowed.
The government inspector checked the situation and decided the houses might be endangered if the dam ever broke (which it never had) and ordered them to empty the dam by the end of June or be faced with a huge daily fine and jail time. Karen Sides decided to be proactive and hired her own engineer and had the dam rebuilt with their own equipment and at considerable expense. They found it possible to "slip the pipe" into the old piping to meet required standards. The government inspector approved the work, which was finished just before frost set in. All the trout and bullheads that had populated the dam were gone, but the Sides were victorious in their challenge with the government officials. Note: Some rewording has been done in retyping the original article to add clarity and to fix grammatical errors.
The Lusk Herald
February 10, 2016
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
Loren and Robyn Heth live on a family ranch about 12 miles north of Manville, with drainages for the Boggy Creek that feed into a dike about half a mile from their house. On the evening of June 3, they were aware of a predicted storm brewing according to a Glendo radio station. They were driving home late in the evening and saw the hail falling south of Manville near the Hidden Valley Ranch. When they got home, they could hear the water rushing down the nearby creek. They have had flash floods before, so considered them not uncommon, but this was bigger than most. The next morning, they assessed the situation and found gravel was washed off the roads, fences were under water and it was running over the highway. They took off on four-wheelers and found much under water. It was apparent that the buildup on the railroad beds for the railroad tracks had eliminated many of the old bridges that had allowed the water to flow without building up. Damage included major fences destroyed, dikes damaged, and trash was deposited everywhere. When Loren was able to travel the highway after they opened the next morning, he arrived in Lusk and found his accounting and bookkeeping office on Main Street full of water up to window level. He was very grateful for the people who showed up to help clean up the mess, vacuuming out a basement full of water, mud and debris and said the turn-out of people to help was "mind boggling". He declared there are so many people in Lusk, who always take time to donate their time and services in times of disaster. Jerry Miller seemed to be everywhere helping everybody and volunteered his equipment for the challenging job that faced every business owner on main street. Repairing the front of his business building began in late fall with front offices being redone, a new front exterior and a door that will open outward, all of which will give it a "new look". In the meantime, he continues to operate his accounting and bookkeeping business from offices in the rear of the building having saved his accounts electronically backed up. Clients may enter through the back.
The Lusk Herald
March 30, 2016
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
Dan and Cheryl Gaukel live on a ranch south of Highway 20 between Manville and Keeline. The first awareness they had on June 4, 2015, that the rainstorm was going to be much bigger than the usual summer rain, was the sound of water pouring into their basement. They tackled the problem with a carpet shampooer, which really didn't keep up with the flooding. After it was over and they assessed the damage outside, they found four stock tanks had floated away. Most were so badly damaged they weren't worth bringing back. One was a big tire tank with a cement bottom that had been moved a hundred yards by the flood waters from the wind-mill, still full of water. They drained it and returned it to its original location, with a new cement bottom. Fencing heavily draped with grass and trash debris washed away with posts pulled from the ground and was so badly messed up, it required replacing posts as well as wire. It was the first time they had water so deep it measured up five feet on the windmill, which amazingly still worked. They had a camper with hail damage on three sides due to the swirling, violent winds accompanying the rainstorm. Afterward they took pictures of hail drifts two feet deep, that were still there two weeks afterward. In some pastures, the hail had pounded the grass into the ground so deeply it didn't produce hay that summer, and they "hope it's better this year (2016)".
The county road washed out south of their house and moved culverts in some places. They were deeply grateful for help with fencing. Five members of the Knights of Columbus of Torrington and David and Pam Anderson of Glendo gave them a good start in getting fences back up, but the Gaukels continued to work on fences the rest of the summer.
The hills south of Manville apparently received historic levels of rain and hail that night and the wall of water gathered power and depth that left unbelievable destruction in its wake as it swept down the gullies, washing everything in its path before sweeping through the Town of Manville, which was already receiving well over seven inches of rain and huge amounts of hail that night. According to local lore, rain that falls in the hills south of Manville can drain to the east and west, or it can sometimes drain west and south, as it did when it inundated the Gaukels and others in its way.
Neighbors to the Gaukels, Dave and Diane Birch slept through the rainstorm, completely unaware of the rain and hail that had descended on their place. The next morning they received a call from the Lusk Postmistress Rhonda White, that the mail route that Birches were responsible for, could not be run that day, due to the storm (the highway west of Manville had been split widely apart by the flood waters). They have driven the route all their 34 years of marriage in good weather and bad but this was an insurmountable travel problem due to the excessive rain. They found fences had been washed out and large drifts of hail were near their house where Muddy Creek flows. Due to their high location, no water had come into their house. They have a common fence between their place and a pasture owned by Artie Joss, who sent a work crew to repair the fence and they did a great job. Some hayfields were hailed out and produced no hay and other pastures that were difficult to cut, leaving them short of hay for the season. They found the county roads on which they drive were washed out in places.
The Lusk Herald
April 6, 2016
Flood Story by Phyllis Hahn
A call from the sheriff's office in the late evening of June 3, 2015, alerted Manville residents, Algera Jensen and Dennis Johnson, to expect heavy rainfall, which commenced about 11:00 p.m. Potential flooding was not mentioned but the rising water had already become evident, and they found themselves pacing the floor, not sure what they would be dealing with, when the highway broke apart and a surge of water hit their residence. Several items including a picnic table and propane tank were swept from their place and debris from the pastures the water had rushed through littered their lawn afterward. Grasses from the pastures were wrapped around trees in the yard. The garage door was pushed open and everything inside got wet. Their losses included a freezer and a lawn mower. They found the crawl pace had some water but they did not experience any on the ground floor. They had a backup gas-powered generator, which when cleaned up still ran. Traffic past their home on the Main Street of town became a problem, including a truck that couldn't make a corner, (and) tore up their front lawn. However, the damage was paid for by the responsible parties.
A number of family members came to help them with cleanup including Casey Jensen, and his daughters Amber and Courtney of Lusk and Carol and Bill Bell and their son, Chad who live in Alliance, Nebr. Manville water systems were never compromised as the wells are located on higher ground. The transfer system for the sewer system was flooded and since then has been moved to a higher location.
The Lusk Herald
Progress in Niobrara County Insert
April 26, 27, 2016
So much progress, still work to do for the Town of Lusk
by Lori Himes
The past ten months has been a rejuvenation following the devastation that laid waste to a significant portion of Niobrara County on June 4, 2015. While visible scars remain, the natives of our county rose above the destructive torrent and without delay began the process of recovery.
Many articles and opinions have been circulated about this event. Stories of terror and triumph. Accounts of pain and perseverance. But there is one group that remained elusive to my attempts at journalistic coverage. The "City Boys".
I believe that I have a unique perspective on the employees of the Town of Lusk. I have known some of them since childhood. Others, since they were children. I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat to witness the strength and dedication exemplified the night all of their experience and training came into play. I also had the opportunity to sit down with three of these gentlemen in an attempt to gain their perspective on the initial event and the ensuing aftermath of a recovering community.
In the numerous conversations I have had related to the flood, most if not all had that one moment in time when circumstances began to become focused on the gravity of the situation. John Eddy, Water Department Supervisor, as ironic as that is, also holds the title of Fire Chief for the Lusk Volunteer Fire Department. Eddy was one of the first emergency responders called upon to assist Manville. "I don't believe it really sunk in for me until we made it back to Lusk and I tried to go down Main Street and a car floated past us," said Eddy.
Husband and wife team, Cory and Monica Wilcox, answered the call and responded with the Lusk Ambulance service. Cory is the Director for the Lusk Ambulance Service and the mechanic for the Town of Lusk. In the organized chaos of emergency response the couple each shouldered their responsibilities and in the progression of events became separated. One on the north side of the collapsed bridge and one on the south. Cory shared the following. "That was the worst part because I didn't know what happened. I was over the hump and I couldn't see, I could just hear. There was a truck up there (bridge) and still didn't know what was going on so I just started running down hill, not knowing what was happening to my wife and my ambulance crews. That sucked. Even after you know everyone is alright there is still that moment when it just sucked.".
"In all the pre-planning (emergency preparedness) the question always comes up, "What happens if something happens to the ambulance?" I was always the one that said nothing is going to happen to the overpass." said Eddy.
The Town of Lusk is the family business for Bruce Himes. His father, Milton Himes, retired after 32 years from the same position that his youngest son now holds, Street and Landfill Supervisor. "The first thing I thought about doing was getting down to the shop and try to get the loader out of there and I got to the end of Pine Street and Kupke (Gene) was loading his boat. Party's over. Someone was yelling for me to get my jet ski and there's railroad timbers floating by," said Himes. Himes recalls when the bridge collapsed. "Cory was on the top of the overpass when it went. We were down by the Baptist Church and when it went it sounded like a train wreck". Eddy concurs, "We heard it. We were down by Niobrara crossing in the fire truck when it went. That was pretty impressive".
Once the floodwaters receded the magnitude of the situation became tangible. "I was helpless. I had a pick up and a shovel, and that was it", said Himes. Wilcox adds, "That was what was one of the most frustrating things for me was that we were all helpless". The first day was really frustrating because it was just a lot of phone calls and a lot of meetings. It just seemed like nothing was ever going to get started. And then it was like everyone was still in shock. Just looking around. Our biggest thing was getting a hole built. Once we started getting a hole built we just went to work", said Himes. Eddy and Wilcox agree. "That's what's cool about our services and our emergency services, we all work really, really well together. We might hurt each others feelings but we'll come and talk about it later. But we get done what we need to get done. We didn't have the equipment. We had the manpower but there was nothing we could do. I was lost for a little while, trying to organize my thoughts and prioritize things", said Eddy. Himes continues, "I think we were all in that boat. Every single one of us." I was waiting on a loader and I had 10 people to put to work. We had a little pile of millings (used for repair) but that wasn't going to last us. The pile out at the airport was flooded in. There was no way we were going to get in there. We built a bridge on Daley (street) and a crossing at Niobrara Park. They were moving most of the millings from Douglas, because we couldn't get to our pile. That was huge just to get traffic open. We knew that we needed to get the generator to town and get it going (it was at the airport). Our first attempt we were floating so we backed out of it and waited about an hour and it went down enough that we were able to get in there and get it. We just wanted to get something going," said Himes.
"That's not something we are used to. Snow? Yeah we can move the heck out of that. What do you do with that much water?" said Eddy. "I was down on Main Street opening up gutters moving fire extinguishers and air conditioners, just everything. We had Main Street coned off. i looked up and here comes Eric Wasserburger around the corner and wipes out the barricade cranking on his horn. At first I was mad, he just took out the barricade and then I noticed behind him was six vac tracks. It was like the Calvary had arrived", said Himes.
The first time Wilcox saw the damage to the ambulance bay was very hard for him. MS 54 survived the flood but the training room was a total loss. The recycle center and the Fire Hall both received very little damage. "Jim (Pontarello) lost a tennis shoe, we never did find that. We only got about four inches of water", said Eddy.
Enough can not be said about the overwhelming support from other communities and groups. The volunteers that came to the aid of Niobrara County were simply put, amazing. The Wyoming Challenge Academy was just one of these groups. "They were filling their bus with garbage when other trucks weren't available. I let them in at the landfill. That's the first time I've ever seen a school bus full of garbage. All those kids were stacked in the first three seats and the rest was heaped with garbage. That was cool", said Himes. "It was pretty humbling the amount of outside help that showed up. There were people that really had no stake in Lusk whatsoever", said Eddy.
The progress made toward recovery is immense but there is still much to be done. With the landfill slated for closure soon, time is limited for the disposal of the efforts of the continued recovery. Disposal will become expensive and time is of th4e essence. "There has been so much progress, it's huge. Most all of the businesses downtown are open. But there is still work to do," said Himes. "We definitely learned from this," said Wilcox.
The Lusk Herald
Progress in Niobrara County Insert
April 26, 27, 2016
Lusk businesses remain a Niobrara Strong community
by Dawn Scott
Every resident and neighboring community to Niobrara county knows of the devastating flood we endured June 4, 2015. The community was very blessed with all sorts of clean-up, financial, and now rebuilding assistance. Around 32 different businesses in Niobrara county were affected by the flood. Some of the businesses were a total loss and had to rebuild completely, whereas others received minimal damage considering the severity of the flood.
Although there was not a business in our downtown area that did not received at least some damage from the flood, businesses such as Rawhide Drug, Bank of the West, Farm Bureau, and The Pizza Place received much less damage. Some of this had to do with their location on Main Street and others had to do with their business floor elevations causing the flood water to run into the basement but fortunately had little damage to the main floor of their business. "We didn't have it nearly as bad as others. The same day as the flood was the day we were to place our first food order to get open, so we had everything good to go to place the order and were going to open the following Monday and it just set us back until the following Monday. So for us it wasn't that big of (a) deal, we just cleaned everything up," commented The Pizza Place owner Brad Wagner on the effect the flood had on his business. This was the case for only a few businesses. Others were not as lucky.
Businesses on the north end of Main Street seem to have gotten the most damage such as The Lusk Liquor Store, Hiway Brake & Alignment, Perfect Image Salon, Same As It Once Was, Allbright's True Value, The Pub, Bloomers, The Silver Dollar, and Lickety Stitch Quilts just to name a few. These businesses received varying degrees of damage, some of them were complete losses where as some of them were able to clean up enough water and debris to reopen quickly.
Most every business but not all of them were closed for business for varying time periods to remove water and clean up the damage well enough to reopen, whether it be a downtown business or businesses off the beaten path such as Silver Cliff Vet Clinic, and Niobrara Weed and Pest. Time period for business closures ranged from one day to several seeks or even months. A great number of business owners had to undergo structural repairs, dry wall repairs and replacements, new flooring or carpeting, also new windows and doors installed, however this only covers a small bit of what most businesses had to repair or replace. Several of the businesses are still working on repairs and will continue to do so for several months ahead. Almost every business received some sort of financial help from the many different flood fund raisers and different benefits.
Although any Niobrara businesses had to be closed for a time, these businesses report varying degrees of business activity. Some business owners report that as soon as they reopened for business it was business as usual. Hiway Brake & Alignment owner Jim Santistevan said "Business was not normal the two months we were down and then it got normal right after that." The Pub Manager Connie Halligan stated "We opened on the seventh day after the flood and customers came right back." However, Bloomer's owner Carrie Bannan commented "I think that maybe during the summer it was a little slower than normal just because of the detours. I really think that affected the downtown as a whole a ton. But at that point too everyone had given so much to everybody." Although Niobrara county residents and Business owners took a huge setback with the flood, everyone is trying to get back to business as usual and will remain Niobrara Strong.
The Lusk Herald
Progress in Niobrara County Insert
April 26, 27, 2016
Flood Story Rex & Julie Tollman
by Phyllis Hahn
An early morning call at 3:00 a.m. to the Rex and Julie Tollman ranch home from their friend, Jan Green, informed them of the devastating flood that had rushed through the business streets of Lusk. They own The Lusk Liquor Store, located at the north end of main Street and it got a full share of powerful flood waters that broke the front windows, filled the first floor with five feet of water and filled the basement full. A second call came from the sheriff's office, advising them that they would need to travel from their ranch north of Lusk to enter Lusk from the east, and stay on the north side of Highway 20 due to the collapse of the highway overpass. They finally reached town in mid-afternoon and found the mess that faced them: the glass from windows on Main Street broken out and the front and back doors had been forced open. J.D. Wasserburger had summoned vac trucks from around the county, which sucked the water out of many store basements and homeowners as well. Jan and Dennis Green drove to Torrington for lumber and helped put up the wood to board up the windows. Green and Joe McDaniel brought horse trailers to store the liquor in while cleaning and restoration took place. Tables, chairs, coolers and everything else in the building had to be removed for cleaning or replacement, while the walls and wood was ripped out and replaced. Basement walls were cement and the place was prayed with bleach for mold mitigation. They hired several contractors to do work needed to restore the business, which now has a fresh look, is non-smoking, with a beer garden for smokers. It took weeks to clean and get everything ready for reopening in September. There were so many helpers that descended on Main Street, it is difficult to name all, however among the first to help the Tollmans were Cathy Coon and her daughter, Whitney, Laurie Wasserburger, and her future daughter-in-law Annie, Donna Fedde and Ed and Arlene Rapp. Rex's family members also got involved with the project: cousin Robert and wife Cheryl Pollo and son, Zach of Douglas, cousin Darron Hazlik, or Gillette, son Aaron Tollman and husband Jordon of Lusk and Yvonne Jensen of Lusk were some of the many. They'd had to replace coolers, back bar, and all shelving so in the end it had been totally hollowed out. Julie commented "The disaster really brought out the best in people and it has proven again that Lusk is a caring place." but she added "I don't want to do it again."
The Lusk Herald
Progress in Niobrara County Insert
April 26, 27, 2016
Flood Story Davies & Lund, LLC back to business as usual
by Phyllis Hahn
Elaine Griffith called the home of Doyle and Monica Davies around 3 a.m. on June 4, asking if they knew why the Town sirens were going off. She also said that her husband, Terry, had received a call earlier requesting his boat to help with the flood in the town of Manville. They did not think about any flood happening in Lusk, therefore they did not become concerned.
At 6 a.m., Cally Lund, law business partner of Doyle Davies, called and told Doyle that the business area of Lusk was flooding. He met up with Cally and tried to cross the street to get to the office and the water was flowing so hard and fast there was no way to do so. They finally were able to get to the back door of their law office, and did not expect the water would have done much damage. However, when they opened the back door, water and office equipment flowed out. Cally and Doyle rushed in to get the computers out, and discovered water had reached a height of at least 5 feet inside the office and all the equipment, files and furniture had been under water. Thus began the "Davies and Lund, LLC Operation Regroup & Rebuild" era. With the help of local computer expert, Tyrel Lohr, they were able to locate a firm that could retrieve their data from the hard drives. This took two months and an old scan disc, and finally Doyle and Cally had some of their computer data back.
Cally immediately called around and found them a place to set up the law office temporarily. Tandy Dockery, realtor, assisted in this and they appreciated her assistance. Cally was also on the phone for two to three days getting them equipment, since everything was lost to the flood. She recruited her family as helpers in getting them moved into the temporary office and again when they moved back into the remodeled office, including the transfer of the phone and Internet.
Doyle assumed the task of getting the debris cleared out of the damaged office space and organized people to get it rebuilt. This included getting the mud and sand off the walls and floors in order to replace the new floors, floor jacks, plumbing, heating, sheet rockers, painters, carpenters to install new door and windows, etc. There were days of questioning if they would ever get back into their old office. Through prayer, and support of spouses, family, community and others from outside the community, they were only out of the office 109 days and say "Thank you" to all who helped. The entire county and several volunteers from other communities and even states were helping them and they do not wish to leave anyone out that helped in this overwhelming effort, but stated "It is safe to say that everyone in one capacity or another helped us and the rest of Niobrara county to rebuild. Thank you to all of you again and again."
Challenges faced included getting the answers to where to find help. So many were already doing work for their neighbors or themselves. It was a new experience for both Doyle and Cally to learn new job skills as General Contractors and don't wish to repeat that job again. It involved: after working an 8-hour job, then heading to the damaged office to spend another couple of hours each day, and nearly every weekend was spent working to renovate the flooded office. They learned how to do carpentry they had never done before, made many trips out of town to get rebuilding materials, figured out how to make the front sidewalks stable and got barriers for the back of the office, etc. They continue to do small repairs, which include the sewer line, the front door, the heating system, and on and on. The law partners are native Niobrarans and are determined to stay and serve their community and look forward to having an Open House this summer at 117 South Main and they are "Happy to be back!"
The Lusk Herald
Flood Story - The Pizza Place
May 18, 2016
by Phyllis Hahn
Over two years ago the skyline of downtown Lusk was ablaze with the terrific fire that gutted the popular eatery, The Pizza Place. Typical of the tight knit community, people turned out to help clean up after the fire and help Brad and Missy Wagner, confident they would be able to reopen. Their efforts had almost been rewarded with the long awaited reopening when the historic flood of June 4, 2015, hit the downtown business district. The Pizza Place was within a week of their reopening and they were ready to place an order on Thursday, but instead were faced with another cleanup job again. They had heard the sirens and Carol Kupke called them to explain the situation. They walked down and when they saw what had happened, returned with their truck loaded with a gas-powered pump, brooms, squeegee and necessary equipment to clean up. They were fortunate in having installed doors that opened outward to meet fire code, when they remodeled in 1995. This prevented the water from gushing in and filling the building as it did in others. They waited until the water receded so they could enter the back, which was higher than the front entry. They texted for help and many showed up, including Covered Wagon Motel staff, church members, customers and friends. They had so much help, Missy comment "It was really neat", and the Wagners went across Main Street to give Terry Allbright assistance at True Value Hardware. By 8:00 a.m., the basement had been pumped out, the floors cleaned and fans were up and running to dry the place out. They had a washer and dryer in the basement and used a pressure washer, dried it out and the appliances still run. The long-awaited reopening was a bright spot in the recovery of the downtown businesses.
The Lusk Herald
Progress in Niobrara County Insert
April 26, 27, 2016
Recovery: The progress goes on
May 18, 2016
by Phyllis Hahn
According to County Commissioner Richard Ladwig, county roads were repaired within two to three months within Niobrara. With outside help from Converse County and Weston County, the roads were ready for travel as quickly as possible.
The Town of Lusk power was restored by the next day. Sewer and water services were restored in a couple weeks and deemed all right to use with the boil order lifted for the water. At first, it was recommended that the public limit the use of water. Torrington TDS porta-potties were stationed at the Fairgrounds for public use and in the parking lot of the Deckers grocery store immediately after the flood, but were removed in a matter of days. A few were placed in residential districts in the flood plain.
Thirty-one businesses were impacted by the flood and all but one has reopened at this time. Eleven homes were lost, with six being replaced with new homes through a program accessed via FEMA. It is estimated that well over 200 miles of fencing was lost in pastures, and probably over 100 head of livestock lost. 4-H lambs and goats were lost and not included in the livestock count. Smaller creatures like chickens and pets are also among the drowned and missing.
The Pioneer spirit that settled the area has been evident in the recovery effort with donations of funds coming in immediately to the Niobrara Recovery Committee. T-shirts with the slogan "Niobrara Strong" were sold by the Lusk Herald newspaper with proceeds going to the fund. A second fund named Enhance Niobrara became active with a wonderful event that included a dance with music provided by Chancy Williams, a supper, silent auction and a very successful bidding auction with Lex madden, Josh Keller, Ty Thompson and Ian Zerbe crying the sale, which raised over $1230,000. Attendance at the event was over a thousand people who came from all over to support Niobrara.
Several businesses on main Street have an updated new look as a result of restoration by contractors. Since restoration, the Lusk Liquor Store is now smoke-free as it joins others in making their facility friendly for everyone. Possibly the biggest impact on the community was the collapsed overpass, that cut way back on highway traffic, which had to be diverted to a detour with a loss of revenue to gas stations, restaurants, and motels, which is reflected by a considerable drop in revenue. Repair of the overpass is already underway with plans to have it rebuilt even stronger than before by the end of summer. The newly built Conservation District Weed and Pest Building, that was deemed too damaged to repair, has been sold and work has already begun to replace it with a new office building in the recently developed business park on the south end of main Street. It is anticipated to be open by July first.
Some data courtesy of Denise Smith, Wyoming Extension Educator.
The Lusk Herald
May 25, 2016
"And No One Died..."
by Phyllis Hahn
In the early morning hours of June 4, 2015 a devastating flood hit many areas of Niobrara county. During the four hours prior to the flood, some places received 7 1/2 inches of rain sometimes along with copious amounts of hail, turning the flood waters into bone-chilling ice water. Niobrara county residents had received a "Code Red" phone call about 2:00 a.m. advising them to evacuate immediately. Many did not realize the magnitude of the storm and ignored the advice. Warning sirens sounded in Lusk to alert residents of the impending danger. When the flood waters reached Manville first, the wall of water hit homes close to the river channel, and 45 minutes later as it reached Lusk, the water was estimated to be a 20 to 30 feet high wall filled with debris accompanied by a stinky, muddy stench that would hang around for days afterward. It continued down the flood plain of the Niobrara river rushing past the Wyoming Women's Center and as it went, it destroyed the infrastructure of highways, roads, bridges, governmental buildings and facilities, water wells, the sewer system, the railroad, and the Lusk business district, filling office and store basements with muck, destroying merchandise, important business records and documents. Law enforcement personnel, fire department personnel, ambulance personnel, local volunteers and local authorities had gone door to door to make certain people had evacuated and often rescued those people and their pets that hadn't gotten out in time. Several close calls resulted but no deaths occurred, thanks to the rescue efforts of volunteers with heavy equipment. Several people had to be treated for hypothermia but none drowned.
A local rancher, who just happened to be in town early on an errand, summoned vac trucks from all around the county, which were put into service pumping out basements of businesses on Main Street that had filled with water and some of the homes that also experienced flooding. They had a challenge in getting into town as travel in and out of Lusk was complicated when the overpass on Hwy 85 collapsed on the railroad tracks, and a portion of Hwy 20 just west of Manville split apart, as a wall of water washed out a culvert. The sound of pumps could be heard for several days in a very muddy Lusk business district filled with trash, mucky mud and debris.
The strong spirit of the community was reflected when volunteers of all ages showed up in the early hours of the day to start what would be a long, but successful effort to clean the mess up.
The Lusk Herald
June 15, 2016
2015 Niobrara county Flood Story - Skeleton Closet
by Phyllis Hahn
A unique example of art deco architecture is the building on the west side of Main Street, just north of the laundromat. It is the residence and business location of Todd Hoelmer, owner of the Skeleton Closet, who loves to dig for bones. Not just any bones, but those of fossils, long gone residents of the area north of Lusk.
On June 4, 2015, he was sound asleep in his apartment upstairs and failed to hear the sirens warning of the oncoming flood. He had missed phone calls, but was aware of the hard rain. He checked out his window, saw the emergency vehicle lights in the street below about 4:00 a.m. He then checked the back stairway and saw it was filled with at least seven feet of water in it.
Hoelmer had to wait until mid-morning for the water to recede so he could descend to his work area, which was demolished. In the street outside, his pickup had been flattened by a cargo container that had broken loose by the flooding. All of the wrap-around windows had been broken out, allowing the rushing flood water to wash away the precious bones he had been working on.
One of these was a juvenile triceratops, about 16 feet long, that was over 65 percent to 80 percent complete and valued between 300,000 to 500,000 dollars. He lost three years of work with only a few large bones remaining, estimating his total loss was nearly $2 million in rare dinosaur remains that were swept downstream.
A year later, the windows are still boarded up, but the shop is now operational. All power tools had to be replaced and his excavations continue. As part of his business recovery, he continues to spend time in the field, camping out while he pursues those bones. He spends time cleaning them for private collectors, museums and other diggers. Someday he will install the sign that proclaims "Skeleton Closet", which he had planned to put up in mid-June of 2015.
The Lusk Herald
July 13, 2016
Flood story from Niobrara Conservation District.
by Phyllis Hahn
The Niobrara conservation district decided in 2012 to develop the NCD Learning Center. The project was to house everything the District owned as well as provide numerous educational aspects. Up until then, the district had their stuff scattered throughout town in indoor and outdoor displays on natural resources, trees, wildlife, energy and landscaping. They applied for and were successful in receiving Consensus Block Funding through the State of Wyoming SLIB program and they wrote some smaller grants to fund the desired learning opportunities. The construction of the new building began in the fall of 2013. It required two years to work through the complete process and get the building completed. They were just about to unveil some new items when the flood hit. Because the NCD is a political subdivision of the state and locally charged with the protection and enhancement of the natural resources, FEMA allowed that they had the ability to help NCD replace the building. The new structure was across from the railroad depot (built in 1886, when the rails went through the Wyoming Territory and Lusk became a destination on the map) and was located on the same lot the Yellow Hotel had occupied. That building had been allowed to decay badly and was burned in a containment exercise for the volunteer firemen, which made it possible to replace the run-down structure with the new building designed just for the Niobrara Conservation District.
On June 4, Lisa Shaw, District Manager of the NCD, was aware of the flooding as her husband is an employee of WYDOT and he called her numerous times during the night of the flood. Will Boldon also sent her a photo at the break of dawn, showing the water level way up on the building. Lisa waited at home until she thought she could get to town without being in the way. She was met at the crest of the hill on Pine Street by friends who hugged her and held her tight, then together they unlocked the door and went in. Slick mud covered the floor of the office and the shop looked like a tornado had gone through it. Everything was upside down. They could feel the building move as they walked across the floor. They locked the door back up and Lisa went home, waiting for the water to continue to go down. The files were covered with mud and water had made them swell in the cabinet drawers so one could not get them out. Tom Parker and Lisa lost both of their vehicles. Water had filled the cabs of both pickups. The old windows they had collected for a cold-frame greenhouse and hundreds of potted plants were washed away. many of the plants were returned during the cleanup.
The next several days, the Niobrara conservation District Board members, Kevin Gaukel, Matt Dockery, Mark Groh, Dale Jordan, and Terry Browder and their families, Tandy, Dax and Lexie Dockery, and Morgan Rising, friends and co-workers, Tracy Bruegger, Tommy Stephens, JoAnn and Monte Wade, Teri and Heidi Sturman, met to begin the sorting and removal of debris. Matt Dockery brought the truck in. Kevin Baars had the skidster and with shovels and gloves, they mucked out the damaged stuff and washed off all the things they thought they could save. Several days following that, Kevin and Kaden Gaukel and Harold Stroh took a Saturday off to cut sheet rock and remove insulation from the walls (for mold mitigation). Then the following week, they were joined by inmate crews and continued the cleanup, removing duct work, carpet, tile, debris and mud. Tom Wasserburger lent them a dump truck for several of these days. Lisa was sure there were others who helped but it was such a blur, it was difficult to recall everyone. Moran Rising and Matt Dockery had to go to the ER for stitches for first day of the cleanup.
From the outside, the office looks fine, however the shop had 5 1/2 feet of water and the office had three feet of water in it. The office had floated off the foundation and finally came back to rest leaving a lot of minor issues. They had utilized every effort to minimize mold, rid the property of debris, clean the salvaged contents and protect the structure. The original FEMA report declared it a total loss, however in weeks to follow, additional FEMA crews went to work to determine the Repair or Replace Policy or 50 Percent Rule (44 CFR #206,#26(f). FEMA then required them to have another engineer review for rehabilitation of the damaged framing. Subsequent requirements and a higher level of flood insurance that would have to be paid, resulted in choosing to replace the facility as an improved project. It is hoped to have the new completed facility ready by the end of December 2016. In the meantime, a sign was placed in a semicircular garden plot on Pine Street the third week of May, 2016, telling a brief history of the brothel that had occupied that space for many years.
The Lusk Herald
July 6, 2016
by Phyllis Hahn
A year later and the memory of the flood on June 4th is still very strong in the minds of the owners of The Pub. When asked for their flood story, this was submitted and it certainly represents what all the business owners in the "two-hundred block" on Main Street of Lusk experienced and had to cope with.
In the words of Connie Halligan, their flood story began:
"I remember waking up that morning to my husband talking to our son (Tanner Halligan) on the phone. The power was out. The sirens were going and going to a point it was scary. Our son said there was a flood and a lot of emergency vehicles. I told him to get off the streets and go home. I went outside. Darkness everywhere. And a strange sound I would later find out was the flood going through our little town, and our business. Minutes turned into very long hours as we gathered what information we could from texts and Facebook. We knew for certain there was a flood on Main Street, but had no idea what to expect. I believe it was about 7:00 a.m. when we ventured downtown and pulled up in the parking lot behind the Pub. We had to pry our way in due to our bar security. But Main Street was blocked off and we had no other choice than to access the bar through the alley. When Jesse got the door open, the water and mud we stood in poured in the door. His flashlight lighting the way, our hearts literally broke as we saw the mess in front of us. At least 4 inches of thick muddy water covered the floors. Our carpet, not yet a year old, was a mass of mud and gunk. The tears came for me and would continue for many, many days and weeks to come. We made our way to the steps leading to the basement. That is when we encountered the worst. The muddy water way up the steps, personal and work items floating in the muck. We would later measure by the muddy marks on the wall that we had 33 inches of water in the basement.
Found a bar stool upstairs to set on and the tears fell like the rain that flooded our business. Our kitchen floor ruined, our tables and chairs covered in a muddy mess, a stench that made my stomach turn. Finally brave enough to go look, we opened the front door. The memory of Main Street still today makes me cry. Our peaceful little town, a shambles. Mud, garbage, water everywhere. The overpass had collapsed. That was literally the most devastating thing I had ever seen. I felt like I was in a science fiction movie. Quick phone calls to leave messages for two of our kids living out of town to let them know not to freak out by any images on Facebook. (Rick Plummer, Seaside OR, Amanda Turley, Casper). Jesse and I were OK and I would talk to them soon. Then I found out my father-in-law, Ramon Jenkins, had refused to leave his home by the vet clinic when the fire department came for him. There was no way to reach him by phone, or travel, but through Facebook we were able to contact his neighbors and knew he was OK. Jesse and I just looked at each other, broken-hearted and bewildered and wondered "Where do we start?".
Enter JD Wassserburger, a hero on a white horse, or rather his water pump truck. JD and his crew and family spent endless hours and days pumping out water. Later in the week, a pump truck arrived from Casper, free of charge, and joined the "herd". They were able to suck up more mud and debris left from the flood waters.
The seven days before we opened, were a blur of nightmares. More rain fell but flood waters did not rise again. We replaced our kitchen floors, sanitized everything and anything left in the bar. We had all bar stools and tables taken out and cleaned. A new ice maker was put in. We continued all cleaning with boiled water. We provided food that was saved from freezers and Shawna Robinson was gracious enough to provide food for all the volunteers. Some of the faces changed throughout the week, so many we didn't even know, but were able to say "thank you" to. Jesse and I were never alone here, there was always someone here helping us. Teresa Johnson, John Eddy, Jacob Robinson, Brooke Herren spent every day with us. Never complaining, working through the mess and the stress. and needless to say, my tears fell at so many things. There is no way I can name everyone and I apologize for those I might miss. Gregg and Verlene Matney, Sahvanna Blair, Neil Wurdeman, Andrew Wasserburger, Annie Wasserburger, Ryan and Farrell Rapp, Tracy Dockery, Danny and Cass Matney, Greg Smith, Twila Barnette, Carrie Bannon, Jocelyn Elmore, Shawn and Kresta Leimser, just to name a few! A nice young lady coming through the bar handing out snacks, JD and his family, the pump trucks, tearing up our carpet, it all made me cry. At one point, Jesse told me if I didn't quit crying we would have to have our bar pumped out again. True friendships were formed during this time. They are people I will always hold close to my heart.
Muck boots became my best friend allowing us to wade around the muddy mess in the basement, some of which included 3,000 drinking straws, stir sticks, napkins, ruined food, paper towels, files, papers, liquor bottles. Niobrara Health and Life Center showed up with tetanus shots, which I gladly accepted. Women's committees brought in lunches. Businesses from other towns brought bottled water, trash bags, buckets, rags, etc. It was truly overwhelming! We worked at the bar at least 16 hour days and on the 11th, we reopened the bar at 4:00 p.m. We had boiled plenty of water, purchased canned pop and used what liquor was salvageable. Right after we opened, it was announced "The water is safe". We were thrilled. The kitchen reopened the morning of the 12th with a lot of people thrilled to be able to get a "Pub" burger! The cleanup continued for months. My grandson, Jacob Plummer, age 12, arrived on June 12, from Ohio to work alongside everyone."
A year later, the Pub owners still look for things they no longer have. Their lives are measured by "before the flood" and "after the flood" and their hearts have healed a bit. They will be forever grateful for so many kind people, who didn't have to help, but chose to. The Halligans feel the community can survive anything as they proclaim "We are indeed "NIOBRARA STRONG"!!
The Lusk Herald
July 20, 2016
Hiway Brake and Alignment Flood Story
by Phyllis Hahn
In the early hours of June 4, 2015, Jim Santistevan, owner of Hiway Brake and Alignment, received a call from his son, James Santistevan, the Emergency coordinator for Niobrara County, alerting him to the possibility of flooding waters that might affect his Main Street business. Jim was sure the floor drain would take care of any that might seep in under the overhead doors, never dreaming the interior would fill with four feet of standing water throughout the entire structure. He considered checking on the place but decided it should be alright and waited until 6:00 a.m. to go to work. He found it impossible to reach his shop by Main Street and had to go in by Pine Street, which runs parallel to Main Street one block west. He waded in water above his ankles to reach the shop. Santistevan could only look into the office from the outside as the inside door from the shop would not open. By 9:00 a.m., the flood waters had receded, but water was still draining from the shop. Before the flood, he had nine vehicles inside and nine outside, that had been left by customers. About six trucks had been washed down the alley from behind the shop to Second Street and other vehicles were sitting in water in the alley. Some had been washed out of the shop and still others tried to end up inside. The only vehicle that survived the flood was one that was on the alignment rack up above the water level and a spare tire for it had taken a trip nearly out of town, coming to rest by a trailer home on Holly Street, on the east edge of Lusk. A big cooling unit on wheels had floated out the south overhead door and was found two blocks east. It was necessary to do mold mitigation, removing sheet rock and insulation, and spraying to kill any potential mold. Ron Cundall was employed at the shop at the time of the flood and was there "through thick and then" from the beginning to the end of the cleanup and restoration of the business.
Santistevan regretted the loss of about $30,000 worth of equipment and among other expenses, had to purchase a brake lathe and a tire balancer without financial aid. It was necessary to do mold mitigation, replacing the sheet rock and insulation up four feet on the walls in addition to spraying to prevent mold. Jim stated "I wish I could remember everyone who has helped, there were so many besides family, friends, the LDS Church group came three times...." The business reopened in late August.
The Lusk Herald
July 27, 2016
Flood Story - Diane & Donna Mahnke
On the night of June 3, 2015, Donna and Diane Mahnke were headed to Douglas to stay over with a friend, with plans to attend the Regional Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses, to be held in Aurora, Colo., which would take place June 5 through the 7th. They left Lusk about 10:00 p.m. after finishing up last minute duties. As they got underway, they were aware the sky was filled with strobe-like lightning flashing constantly. By the time they reached Manville, heavy rain had begun with marble sized hail coming down heavily. They pulled into Three Sisters CafĂ© hoping for some shelter from the storm. After a few minutes, the rain had quit and they began their drive again. Just west of Manville, an 18-wheeler had stopped and they drove up beside it for protection from the return of a heavy downpour of rain and hail. Two cars ahead of the truck began driving again, and they decided to follow their tail-lights. Very soon, they found themselves going through 6 to 8 inches of water mixed with hail on the highway. Concentrating on the blizzard posts helped them stay on the road. As they approached Keeline, lightning flashes lit up the sky and they could see the barrow pits were level full with flood water. Deep hail on the highway made driving very dangerous. They called 511 and got a report that the road was dry to Lost Springs, and they were able to continue on to Colorado.
The next morning, while in Aurora, through Facebook, they learned of the flooding in Manville and Lusk, where they had been just hours before the highway washed out. The Sides families, who had planned to attend the convention, lived in houses that were surrounded by flood waters and were unable to join them. Later in the evening, they learned of the overpass collapse. Facebook provided them with pictures of businesses located next door to "Art's Auction" on Main Street and they had Kenny Sides, assisted by Sean Dreesen, secure their building, which they did by boarding up the broken plate glass window and door to protect the window museum items. Michal West, next door business owner, helped by boxing up those items to save for them. A square hole had been sawed into the floor to view the basement damage. Water had come up through the floor drains and and filled the basement, but it drained right away despite the belief of others that they needed to have it pumped out. The convention talks, "Focus on Jesus Christ and not on the storm for courage to keep going", fortified them for the situation they would be facing on return to Lusk. They returned by way of Highway 270 south of Manville, the only route open by then by way of Guernsey.
With the help of Clayton Sides, an elder in Douglas, they arranged for some of the Witnesses in Douglas to come assist them with their cleanup. They filled two flat-bed trailers and took them to storage. Another day, friends helped to completely clear out a storage garage, making it possible to start emptying the basement, full of ruined merchandise. They also realized hazmat suiting was going to be necessary to work at this task. Four Southern Baptist volunteers, equipped with hazmat gear, helped for a few hours one day to start the basement cleanup. Their business neighbor, Brad Wagner of the Pizza Place, provided them with warm water to wash soiled items. They started with one expensive roll-off dumpster and the volunteers used snowmobile sleds and sleds purchased locally to haul out the wet merchandise to dump into the dumpster. They quickly realized they would need more dumpsters. They eventually used two more of the roll-off dumpsters.
They were able to acquire hazmat suits in Cheyenne for those involved in the project. Several Witnesses from Torrington and Douglas also worked in the cleanup with the help of Kenny Canfield. Since then, one day a week, after Diane's job ended at the school, Diane and Donna suited up and worked at cleanup until 9:00 p.m. The next day, Donna would fill the sleds in the basement two LDS women have come to help for two yours. They are able then to get them to neighboring business dumpsters in the alley, with the permission of those businesses. As winter approached, Paula Peterson joined church women in the task of cleaning muddy, salvageable items from the basement. Many hours have been spent moving items from the basement, cleaning, etc. and many more remain before the job is finished. The expense of repairing the front door, the tall plate-glass window and back door are goals yet to be met. Despite the long list of things yet to do, the Mahnkes "are just thankful that Jehovah has given us the strength to do all we have done and that only merchandise and not lives were lost in the flood."
The Lusk Herald
August 10, 2016
Krista & Justin Gulley Flood Story
Manville residents had little warning of the flood waters that would inundate them so quickly during the night of June 3 and the morning of June 4, 2015. Heavy rains accompanied by hail caused the plumbing in the Justin Gulley home to reverse action as water began shooting out of the toilet and floor drain in their basement making a gross mess about 11:00 p.m. they quickly began moving things to the ground floor from their boys' bedroom as fast as they could. The mud room walls broke and they saved only a third of belongings they had put there, hoping things would be safe. All they could do at this point was wait and pray. The water simply didn't stop coming in. Realizing the power was located in the basement, Justin went down into knee deep water to shut it off. The basement filled with five and a half feet of water and the ground floor ended up with 1 1/2 feet of water. They saw a motor boat go by at 2:00 a.m. and hoped it would return to rescue them. It was piloted by Billy Hite, who thought he could come back after rescuing others, but apparently was unable to return. Brady VandeBurg, Wyoming Game & Fish Warden, tried to get close to the Gulley home with his Game & Fish truck but was not able to although the water had dropped a foot so the Gulley family had no choice but to wait it out. After sunup, when the surge of water through town had receded, Justin, an employee of Buck Creek Freight had the company vac truck parked at the Three Sisters CafĂ© and was able to use it to suck out the basement water. They had walked to the CafĂ© for coffee and breakfast, where they learned it had been open all night providing a warm refuge from the rainstorm. Justin drove the vac truck to Lusk thinking that would leave Krista a pickup for transportation. Unfortunately, their car and pickup were too damaged to run again after being flooded. Justin had left their Blazer parked by J.V. Boldon's shop east of Lusk next to the fire truck and it turned out to be the only working vehicle they had left. Dan and Cassandra Matney, Travis and Josie Smith provided them with clean socks and necessities. Michal West invited them into her home to stay while they Gulley home was undergoing work. They had to completely gut their basement, which was 98% accomplished a year later. With help from the community, they had been able to repair all but a shelf in Nathan's closet, a bathroom door and trim work around the basement. Many other people came to assist them with cleanup: Brady Vandburg and his children, Cody Kremers and children, their church families and folks from churches in surrounding communities. Thinking back on their experience a year later, they observed that the county needs a flat bottom boat for water rescue. They also realized the flooding hadn't been too severe until the culvert under the highway washed out, letting a wall of water wash over the town.
The Lusk Herald
January 4, 2017
Flood Story - John Thayer
by Phyllis Hahn
Around midnight, John Thayer, guidance counselor for Niobrara County High School, awoke to heavy pounding on his door. He was a hard sleeper by nature, and it took persistence to arouse him from slumber. Groggily, he answered the door and was greeted by a member of the Lusk Volunteer Fire Department, who were out in full force alerting citizens living in the flood plain of the Niobrara River to the impending flood. He had difficulty grasping the thought of evacuating as it wasn't even raining. Finally, James Santistevan convinced him that flash flooding was about to come crashing through the small community and he realized he needed to comply. It seemed unreal as he gathered pictures, yearbooks, tax information, and other important documents, and placed them on top of the Rat rod parked in his garage. Next he grabbed his computer and a few other electronics. He began moving his vehicles to the home of his parents, Melvin and Chris Thayer, who lived several blocks away at a higher location. He drove his pickup and trailer for his summer pole testing job first because he would be starting work that upcoming week. Then he found his camper had a low tire, so moved it to the tire shop. Estimating the flood waters might reach a depth of two or three feet, he moved his precious 1966 Ford Fairlane to higher ground behind his house and thought to himself that it it gets the Fairlane, there will be bigger problems. He was right.
After hauling things and getting situated at his parents' house, he walked by a window and thought the wind was unusually loud, but when he stepped outside he didn't even feel a breeze so decided to see if the sound could be caused by water and went to check it out. He drove the side-by-side down the street towards the old Silver Cliff Hotel and was awe-struck by the water rushing down the street, which had been turned into a fast moving river. Not knowing what else to do, he decided to help someone else with a plan and drove over to where members of the police department and Gene Kupke were trying to unload a boat to rescue people, who were stranded close to where John's residence was located. John jumped in to help but soon debris made the boat too difficult to maneuver in the water and they had to load it back on the trailer. Next a bulldozer plowed through the rushing water for a rescue attempt.
Realizing the intensity of the water, John wanted to check his property. He returned home, woke his mother up and they went to water tower hill, where he could see his property was underwater. From that viewpoint, they witnessed Jim Jordan get his Payloader stuck, and saw the railroad overpass collapse. From that high point they were able to check all directions trying to find somewhere there might be a dry place, but realized they were in the middle of a lake. After that sobering realization, they returned to the downtown business district and helped pump out the Pizza Place, and filled sandbags in front in case the water might come up as predicted. Then everyone helped haul out all the floodwater soaked fabric from the Lickety Stitch quilt shop and loaded it into vehicles to take somewhere to wash.
By this time, the water had receded enough to drive around some, so they were able to find a way to John's trailer house using the sided-by-side. When they reached it, they found it had been turned around 180 degrees and was still hooked up to utilities with the front porch light still on. He was relieved to see his precious Ford Fairlane was still parked where he had left it, but when he opened the car door, flood water poured out. His pontoon boat was wedged against the power pole down the street across from Keith Lemons' residence and the Wyoming Highway Department building. He opened his garage door to find it had filled it with seven feet of flood waters, then mixed everything in it like a mid-filled washing machine. John was thrilled to find his freezer full of beef within reach and facing up so was able to save that one thing and pushed it through the standing water and loaded it into his vehicle. Later he would recall how adamant he was to save the delicious beef, when he lost everything else.
As the water receded enough to drive vehicles closer, Thayer began hauling out belongings from his house and was in the "saving the home mode", even squeegeeing the warped mud covered floor. The trailer-house had filled with about four feet of water and every cupboard, drawer, and corner was filled with black mud. He loaded up his clothes into a van and a few days later, drove to his aunt Melvina's in Nebraska, where he was able to wash things up, as water still wasn't turned on in Lusk. After several more days of working in water and mud, trying to salvage what he could, Thayer threw everything else away.
The community had come together and helped in many ways. John says, "Even though it was a horrible event, and so much was lost, it also gave him so much" as it drew him and his fiancĂ©, Annie, closer. They plan to be married the end of July. He felt even more blessed to have the Mennonite Disaster Relief help him build a house, which was bigger and better than winning the lottery. He was also fortunate in being able to purchase the land for his new house above the flood plane from a lady in Casper, who passed away shortly afterward.