Pulling together: Communities band together in wake of flood
by Jennifer Lanier
NIOBRARA COUNTY - The residents of Lusk and Manville are pulling together and drying out after a thunderstorm parked southwest of the area June 3rd and deluged the area in several inches of rain, causing massive flooding. Water levels reached over 10 feet in some areas, as it careened down roads and between structures. At this time, it is estimated 35 residential homes and 28 businesses were destroyed or sustained major damage, according to Spencer Pollock, executive director of the American Red Cross of Wyoming.
"As of Monday, we are in the recovery phase," said Emergency manager and Incident Commander James Santistevan.
The ARC arrived on the scene Thursday morning, and along with other responders, have set up in the fairgrounds.
"Initially, we housed approximately 50 residents and national guardsmen a night. Now, we're housing about 15 a night ... We're sheltering at the fairgrounds, and there is a pet shelter here that we are supporting," said Pollock.
Apparently, a pet goldfish was rescued from a puddle in street and is at the pet shelter alive and well.
In addition to housing services for those affected, the ARC, faith-based groups, local authorities and other organizations are providing assistance from water distribution to clean-up. Services and supplies not yet available, are enroute. Two pallet loads of dust masks are arriving later this week in a coordinated effort between the ARC and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Clean-up kits, bottled water and additional supplies are on hand at the fairgrounds. Faith-based volunteers are serving hot and free meals to only those affected by the flood and volunteers at the fairgrounds. Breakfast is from 8 to 10 a.m., lunch is served from 12 to 3 p.m., and dinner will be available from 5 to 8 p.m.
This weekend, 150 to 175 faith-based volunteers from Wyoming and neighboring states will arrive to assist in clean-up in Lusk. Manville cleanup crews will begin Wednesday the 10th. They will be in the area over multiple weekends to lend a hand. To request their services, call the crisis clean-up hotline at (800) 451-1954. The line services multiple states and is currently under heavy use. If the line is busy, or just rings, hangup and call again, advises the ARC and Becky Blackburn, the public information officer for Lusk.
"Don't give up," said Blackburn.
In Manville, TDS (Torrington Disposal Service) has set up large roll-off dumpsters for public use. Officials caution resident from overfilling the roll-offs. If trash exceeds the top of the dumpster, it will have to be unloaded before TDS can safely collect the roll-off.
In Lusk, officials are asking residents to pile "white goods" such as freezers, refrigerators and washing machines and other non-perishable items on their lawns for future disposal.
The town dump is open and accepting trash, free of charge, until Sunday, June 15th. Hazardous items should be sorted out and all normal dump rules apply.
Any unsafe or hazardous items or situation are to be reported to the Sheriff's Office at (307)334-2240.
"Think safe and stay safe. Don't get in a situation you can't control," said Kelly Dean Niobrara County deputy sheriff.
The Wyoming National Guard was in Guernsey for annual training when the storm hit Niobrara county.
"We had 12 soldiers and four five-ton trucks on the ground helping hand out water and debris removal. By Sunday, most of the guardsmen left, and all were scheduled to leave the area (last) Monday," said Deidre Foster, Wyoming National Guard public affairs officer.
"The soldiers told me the people (of Niobrara county) were pulling together, and there was good camaraderie," Foster said.
The flood has put a strain on services in the area. Water and sewer services have been disrupted. Port-a-potties have been positioned in areas hardest hit. In Lusk, water for cooking or drinking should be boiled for three minutes prior to use. It is safe to bathe and wash laundry in the water. However, water should be used very sparingly to avoid overloading the system. Officials request water not be used to water lawns at this time. There are no water restrictions in Manville.
All private wellheads that were under water, even briefly, must be tested prior to use. Test kits can be picked up at the fairgrounds.
"We have enough water for four more days, and there are two more tuck loads (of water) coming," said Blackburn on Monday.
Volunteers distributed over 5,000 cases of water as of Monday evening, according to Santistevan.
Union Pacific crews have dug out their railroad tracks and had limited trains running through Lusk on Monday. There is a temporary 90-day suspension on the quiet zone through town. Drivers are cautioned to watch for trains and not rely on the electrical lights and barriers.
"All county roads are passable. They may not be in the best condition, but they are passable. We encourage awareness when driving (in town or in the outlying areas), said Blackburn.
Donation management specialist, Cathy Kissner requests people only donate items, which are currently needed.
"We don't need 'stuff'. Stuff stands for 'Some Things Useless to Frantic Folk.' Cash is key," said Kissner.
At this time, volunteers need clean-up equipment: muck and irrigation boots, new flat shovels, wheelbarrows, bug spray, sunscreen, lip balm, hats, work gloves, and long socks - all new. Boxes of non-latex disposable gloves and first aid kits are needed. In addition, any household items, paper goods and toiletries will be needed by those affected. Contact the fairgrounds at (307) 334-3534 for delivery information and to verify items are still in need. It is requested that people do not show up to volunteer to help without contacting the fairgrounds first.
The Wyoming Women's Center (prison) is in a similar condition as the rest of the area. According to Blackburn, the women are using port-a-potties and eating off paper plates like everyone else. The facility is otherwise running fairly normally.
There are many people and agencies available to assist in various capacities.
For agriculture related losses, issues or concerns, contact the Farm Service Agency at (307) 334-3454.
Damage to homes or property, contact Niobrara county Assessor at (307) 334-3201.
For current road conditions and closures, call the Sheriff's Office at (307) 334-3201, or or the Wyoming Department of Transportation at (888) 996-7623.
Flood relief counseling and support, visit the ARC at the fairgrounds or call (307) 334-3534.
Union Pacific suspends quiet zone for 90 through Lusk
By Andrew Towne, Staff reporter
LUSK - The Union Pacific Railroad company continues to make progress on restoring the tracks that run through Niobrara County.
The railroad crossing at Griffith Street was anything but quiet early Thurs. morning.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Union Pacific had one track up and running and has hopes to have the second functional by Wednesday evening, according to Sara Cassidy, the Director of Public Affairs for Colorado and Wyoming.
"We are constantly gauging the effectiveness and the safety of the work that has been done," she said. "What we will do is run trains and then stop running the trains to assess the repairs and then run trains again."
The company suspended service for a period of time due to the flooding, but, as of Monday, had opened the first track, and Union Pacific continues to run on a modified schedule.
"We are really proud of the coordination with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Niobrara county and the town of Lusk in getting the railroad operational again," Cassidy said. "We are also really proud of our personnel to bring the railroad back online after such a significant weather event."
She went on to say that the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Niobrara county, the city of Lusk and Union Pacific has decided to suspend the quiet zones at both crossings for the next 90 days.
"We appreciate the understanding by the residents in the area of the irregular traffic and detour routes," Cassidy said. "This was a safety provision that we thought was important."
Should any problems arise concerning the railroad, residents are encouraged to call (888)877-7267, which is Union Pacific's emergency number.
We don't anticipate any problems, but we want to let the people know where they can call if they experience (problems) with the outgrade crossing," Cassidy concluded.
The Depot still shines despite the deluge.
When the railroad came in 1886, Frank S. Lusk (1857-1930), a local rancher, owned the land upon which the town was to be located. Shortly after the coming of the railroad the first depot was built and served until the spring of 1919, when it was partially burned, and was shortly afterward replaced with the present one. The Water tank was moved at the time from its original location. The Depot is registered on the Wyoming Historical Registry.
June 17, 2015
Niobrara ramps up recovery efforts
by Chrystal R. Albers
LUSK - Niobrara County residents are beginning to sort through the chaos that ensued following the destructive flood June 4, which left many residences, businesses and roadways severely damaged.
A handful of community leaders in Lusk formed the Niobrara Recovery Committee last week with the intention of offering a centralized fund to which people can donate with confidence, and money and items can be disbursed evenly to those in need throughout Niobrara County.
Pastor Tony Perry of Crossroad Ministries in Lusk acts as chairman of the new committee.
"We were vetted by incident command, which consists of ... public officials, local authorities," he said Friday morning. "We met last night and have already begun helping people."The purpose of the committee is accountability, according to Perry. "We're trying to stop any fraudulent action," he said. "We're asking for unity. We have an account set up a Lusk State Bank. We want people to be able to donate with confidence."
The committee has already seen great success, with increased donations pouring in from across Wyoming and out of state areas since its formation.
"We're a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization," Perry said. "People know their money is going to the right places."
As a pastor, Perry also suggests Niobrara County residents, in addition to money and donated items, rely on God to continue the healing process. "I'm encouraging people, in these times, to turn to Jesus," he said. "He has mercy, grace and love, but I think he allows things like this [the flooding] to happen so people will turn to Him."
Whether in his role as pastor or as chairman of the Niobrara Recovery Committee, Perry said he finds the community response to this month's disastrous storms encouraging. "The collaboration is great," he said. "I'm seeing people work together and help each other. "It's all about giving hope back to the community."
Those who wish to donate to the Niobrara Recovery Committee can mail funds to: Niobrara Recovery Committee, P.O. Box 53, Lusk, WY 82225. Applications to receive support from this fund are available at the Recovery Assistance Center located at the Niobrara County Fairgrounds, until Fri. June 19 or by contacting Perry at (307) 256-1277.
A press release from the Wyoming County Commissioners Association indicates local damage assessments on every house and business in Lusk concluded Thursday, officially launching the process for a potential federal disaster declaration. Even if declared a federal disaster, however, the need is great.
Niobrara County is also accepting in-kind donations of the following items: new underwear in sealed packaging, new socks in sealed packaging, personal hygiene supplies (toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash), toilet paper, paper plates and cups, plastic tableware, paper towels, sunblock, bug spray (mosquito repellent), dish soap and laundry soap, non-perishable food items, animal/pet food, large trash bags, metal trash cans, plastic totes, small first aid kits/bandages, diapers and baby wipes, baby formula (non-perishable only), gift cards in $20 increments to name brand vendors (Visa, Safeway, etc.).
To donate or receive any of these items, contact Cathy Kissner, Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh Day Adventists at (970) 201-3799.
In other recovery news, the Red Cross shelter located at the Niobrara County Fairgrounds in Lusk closed Saturday, June 13, 2015, at which time the facility was placed on standby status in case activation is needed.
June 17, 2015
Decreasing the American Red Cross footprint
BY: Lori Himes
The American Red Cross has been here since day one to try and help the community and mobilize the community toward recovery. "We feel that we have been pretty successful helping with the initial immediate needs and working within the community to help with the recovery side of things, that is the mode we are in now," said American Red Cross (ARC) Bill Fortune, Communications Specialist Colo. and Wyo. Region.
"What the community is going to see is our footprint decrease in the rest of this week, with the idea that we are turning a lot of the work over to the community. We have established some really strong relationships in this community and outside of the community as in across the state and even other parts of the country. We have been able to facilitate that support and get help coming. We are pretty pleased with the resilience of this community, we are very impressed, and most importantly we want them to understand that at worst we are a phone call away," said Fortune. ARC teams are nearby, located in Casper and Cheyenne, where their chapter office is located. They have recruited volunteers from this community. While they are very pleased with the way things have gone they understand people still have a lot of concerns. They want the people to understand that they are not so much leaving the community but putting events into good hands. ARC closed their shelter operation at the fairgrounds last Sat., June 13. When we go into the recovery mode we focus on individual client services. They still have the recovery center open at the fairgrounds until Fri. June 19, so that people can go in talk to a client service specialist and they are also out in the community, for example on Sun. they were out contacting those residents that they had not heard from and that they knew were impacted. In order to do this they start out by doing a disaster assessment and develop street sheets with individual addresses. They wait for the residents to come to them and if they don't, ARC reaches out to them. There are a lot of community people out there with needs; however, locals sometimes believe others in the community have greater needs. They don't want to take away from someone else. One service area ARC provided at the beginning was the community feeding effort. Community members stepped up and took that on. ARC provided the resource of the food and the local volunteers managed the effort. The community-feeding program will conclude on Fri. June 19, as well.
ARC has also been involved with the Niobrara Recovery Committee (NRC) and will continue interfacing with them on a regular basis so that if there is any need identified that ARC can provide, they will do so. ARC continues to encourage donations to the NRC to help individuals. "It is so great that this committee stepped up. That is what ARC does best. Is to help mobilize the community and then have the community assume that role while remaining a resource," said Fortune. Plans are in the process of moving the NRC services will also be moved after Fri. June 19 to an undetermined location as of press time. Updated information will be provided when the location is decided.
The NRC with ARC help has procured the services of the Southern Baptist Laundry Trailer. The truck will arrive Tue. June 16 with the volunteers arriving Wed. June 17. The trailer will be located at 904 S. Main Street, behind the Crossroads Ministry. Bundled laundry will be washed, dried and folded for those effected by the disaster and should be ready to go by Thurs. June 18.
ARC has also been working with a number of organizations to obtain appliances, either outright or at significant discounts. Their community service members are working to bring outside resources into the community. Once resources are located, ARC will be working with NRC to coordinate distribution.
On June 17 The Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh Day Adventist Emergency Distribution Center will be moved from the Niobrara County High School to the Masonic Temple building, located at 505 W. 3rd Street. Clean gently used clothing and supplies are available for those in need from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. seven days a week.
"We know that we can't do it all and we know we can't do everything. Our goal is to see that the community is self -sufficient again. When we say we are decreasing our footprint it doesn't mean we are leaving town. We will only be a phone call away if there is a need," Said Fortune.
The Lusk Herald
June 24, 2015
Governor revisits Lusk to survey damage
Governor Matt Mead revisited Lusk, early Wed. evening to assess more damage caused by flood waters.
He was joined by the director of Wyoming office of tourism, Diane Shober. The goal of the quick trip
was to see what could be done to bring tourism back through Lusk during the season. He also spoke to
several business owners about disaster relief. Mayor Patricia Smith is pictured discussing tourism
issues with Gov. Mead at the newly reopened Pizza Place. Photo/Lacey Brott
Governor Matt Mead was back in town last Wed. to talk with local business owners, and citizens that were directly affected by floodwaters. He started his tour downtown, with the Niobrara County commissioners, Guy Cameron from Homeland Security, and Diane Shober, the executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism. Shober had a statement about the economic impact the flood has had on Lusk. It reads as follows: The recent flooding in Lusk has had severe negative impacts on the community including economic impacts regarding tourism. Tourism is an economic driver in all communities in Wyo. but especially so in small areas where the visitor dollar has an even greater impact. Travel to and through the town of Lusk are an important part of the community and the eastern part of the state. In 2014, visitors spent 11.9 million dollars in Niobrara County, and in turn generated 300,000 in local tax revenues. Travel generated taxes represent 8.7 percent of total tax distribution of Niobrara County, the county in which Lusk is the county seat. 5.2 percent of all the earnings in the county, come from the travel and tourism industry which totaled 4 million dollars in 2014.
The highways running through Lusk, namely U.S. Highway 18/20 and U.S. Highway 85 are main arteries for travelers in Eastern Wyo. These highways are frequented by travelers going to and from the Black Hills area of So. Dak. 2.1 million visitors went to Mt. Rushmore in 2014 and many of those used this historic corridor. U.S. Highway 85 is a historic highway and runs along the original Cheyenne/Deadwood Stagecoach route. As one can see when these highways are closed, even for a brief period of time, there is a major economic impact due to losing vehicles to other routes, some even outside of Wyo.
The state of Wyo. assigned Guy Cameron, from the Department of Homeland Security to also survey damages. "My agency works with our federal partners, FEMA. We work with them to take a look at opportunities for federal assistance that are based on the damages that are here locally. It's for individual assistance, which would be considered as home owners, small businesses, and public assistance, which for example would be roads, streets, public buildings, county roads, any culvert systems. We want to look at those damages and see if they meet the indicators for public assistance," said Cameron.
Gov. Mead said 17 different state agencies have been involved in some way since the flooding occurred. "From the time I was here the day of the flood to now, the community has done an amazing amount of work. There's been a lot of volunteers helping, and the department of transportation has done a phenomenal job with getting the roads back open. I think it just shows the great sense of community that is in Wyoming, and in the West," said Governor Mead. He also said the FEMA documents were to be in by the end of last week. "I will ask for a federal declaration in attempt to get relief for the people of Niobrara County. I'm not sure what they will do, but we are hopeful that they do provide some relief. On the state side, anything within the law that we can do to get help we will certainly do. There's going to be gaps, there's just no question about that. There's people who are going to be left in a hardship situation, and that's even if we get the FEMA money. There's a lot of good news, but we have to recognize that there's a lot of difficulty ahead for a lot of people. It's not going to be easy. We just hope the feds do their part," said Gov. Mead.
The Lusk Herald
June 24, 2015
Mead requests presidential disaster declaration
Governor Mead holding Kohen Williams, and Kale Williams, Amy Grace Williams
holding Kellen Williams at the Pizza Place.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Governor Matt Mead has asked President Obama for a Presidential Disaster Declaration for Individual Assistance in response to flooding in Johnson and Niobrara Counties that began on May 24, 2015 and continued through June 6, 2015. If granted, such a declaration triggers federal assistance for homeowners and small businesses.
Governor Mead signed an Executive Order on June 5, 2015 declaring a State of Emergency in response to flooding. This order activated the Wyoming National Guard, Office of Homeland Security, local officials and members of the communities who answered the call," Governor Mead said. "Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families impacted, and we are most grateful for all those who stepped in to help - if not for their efforts, this situation could have been much worse."
Floods and other severe weather destroyed at least 14 homes and many more suffered damage. Roadways closed, washouts occurred and evacuations took place.
The Governor's Declaration Request also asks for Small Business Administration disaster loans to aid the businesses and non-profit organizations that saw major damage.
FEMA and the State of Wyoming will conduct preliminary damage assessments of severe weather-related impacts on public infrastructure and the costs of emergency measures midweek.