School bell rings in flooding problems

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August 2, 2011 - 7:00pm

Since June 4, Donna Tatreau and her family have been displaced by the flood of 2011. The family of four normally lives at Harbor 671 west of Tekamah along the river Missouri River. But for the last two months they've holed up in the basement of friends.

"It's hard. Very hard," she said. "You're homeless almost. All of our stuff is at another place. We put all of our possessions in one place, my husband's business that he used to have in the garage is at another place and then we're staying in another place."

Photo courtesy of
Nebraska Emergency Management Agency

Fearing encroaching floodwaters, the school in the northeast Nebraska village of Niobrara turned to sandbags.

Photo courtesy of
Nebraska Emergency Management Agency

Highway 12 near the northeast Nebraska town of Niobrara is covered by floodwaters.

Tatreau works as a paraeducator for Tekamah-Herman school, providing instructional support for special education students. She said she, her husband and two teenage daughters have been traumatized by the ordeal but consider themselves luckier than some.

"There are a lot of people like us that have had to move and find places to put their stuff, find places just to live," she said. "We're hoping this would just be over and we could start going back. But you just never know when it's going to end. It's like a nightmare you can't wake up from."

It's a nightmare many are sharing.

Tekamah-Herman is one of a handful of school systems on both sides of the Missouri River trying to decide how to begin the new school year, along with Niobrara, Blair, and Council Bluffs.

It was on May 31 when Nebraskans living along the Missouri River began evacuating to avoid floodwaters. That was three days after the last day of school in the northeastern village of Niobrara. With fall classes beginning in two weeks, some parents in Knox County are wondering how they're going to get their kids to school.
The closure of Highway 12 - which runs east and west of town - means some buses won't be able to take direct routes to school. In some cases, the school system won't be able to transport the kids at all.

"We're going to rely on the parents in those cases to bring the kids in or at least to a place that we can pick them up if they're going to continue to live in that area," said Margaret Sandoz, Niobrara schools' superintendent.

"With people who are evacuated to an area outside of where their children have normally gone to school, it's going to be access to the schools," said Cindy Newsham, assistant operations and state coordinating officer with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. "How they can get there, or if they've evacuated a longer area to get them integrated into a new school system."

Traveling south along the Missouri, another school system facing problems is Blair Community Schools. Blair's in trouble because like other school systems affected by the flooding, officials aren't sure where some of the students are living.

"We are hoping families that are displaced will contact the school so we know where they might be located," said Chuck Hall, transportation director for Blair Community Schools.

Hall's bus drivers face the unfortunate timing of roads closed due to flooding and roads closed due to maintenance. Highway 75 north out of Blair is under construction while all the county roads east are closed due to flooding.

There isn't much time to get the transportation issues worked out. Classes begin in Blair on Aug. 15 and in Niobrara the day after. Tekamah-Herman classes begin Aug. 18.

Across the river in Council Bluffs, the city council voted just last week to begin classes as scheduled on Aug. 17. They had considered postponing because water still threatens some school buildings.

"Aboslute worst-case scenario is if we had a breech, whether it happened tomorrow or all the way up to school, and we had multiple buildings impacted to the point that we could not hold school in them, then we have to find a location for an awful lot of kids to go to school," said Council Bluffs Superintendent Martha Bruckner.

And as with her counterparts in Nebraska, Bruckner said her staff is uncertain where some of the nearly 9,000 area students are.

"If a family has moved, or abandoned their home, we want them to call our school district and tell us," she said.



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