Stories of Hope Flood Out of Nebraska

As states like Nebraska continue to wrap their arms around what appears to the be the worst natural disaster in state history stories are slowly starting to pour out of the region from farmers and ranchers impacted by the flood.  Michigan Farm Bureau and Ag Community Relief recently made a trip to Verdigre, Nebraska to hear for themselves the stories from the storm including the experiences of ranchers Clint Pischel and Willard Ruzicka. 

"At six a.m. sharp someone from the dam called and said we need to evacuate now," recounted Pischel a fifth-generation cattle rancher near the Niobrara River. "I told them I've got calves and I've got cows I know are on that river bottom."

The voice on the other end of the line told Pischel he didn't have time to worry about the cows. They had to evacuate and get to higher ground. Newlyweds, he and wife hunted their belongings in the dark and waited.

They said the wall of water was coming and we waited for it and finally about 8:30 it came," says Pischel. "When it came, the wall of ice came with it."

Pischel says it happened within 30 seconds. 

"The best way I can explain it is it's like an ocean," says Pischel. "It had to have been 30 feet deep."

All while a blizzard roared with winds topping 60 miles per hour. 

"You know what I can't run very fast anymore, but I'll tell you what I moved faster than normal," recounts Ruzicka. "I mean it was on top of us."

Nearby, Willard Ruzicka was dealing with the same wall of water and ice.

"I could see that I lost everything," says Ruzicka. "I lost everything including the buildings that are now mostly gone."

In a moment, both families losing generations worth of work. Their homes and their livelihoods erased by a mountain of ice.

"We knew it wasn't good, but we didn't know it was that bad," says Pischel. "There were baby calves laying on the banks."

For the Ruzicka's it wasn't just the first wave of water and ice that took their herd. 

"We tried to get to them the day before and the ice was piled up against the gate and we couldn't get them out," says Ruzicka. "It would have taken a Catapillar to get them out of there, so when this second round came it drown them." 

Early estimates put ag damages at nearly a billion dollars in Nebraska alone.

"That does not include property damages on farms," explains Steve Nelson the President of the Nebraska Farm Bureau. "Buildings that have been destroyed, equipment, homes those kinds of things that have been lost or damaged on farms are not part of those numbers."
"It kind of just makes you want to lay your head down and give up for a little bit," sighs Pischel. 

However, the kindness of strangers is helping these families weather the storm. 

"Ninety percent of the people who have come to help I've never met them," says Ruzicka. "I don't know them."

Hay, feed, and supplies from strangers like Ag Community Relief out of Michigan help. They even brought handwritten cards from kids hundreds of miles away urging producers to be strong and don't give up.

"You know it could have been worse," says Pischel. "I know Willard lost everything."  

Both families steadfast in their resolve, if not for themselves, driven by the goodness of neighbors.

"I'm not going to waste that time and energy that they've already sacrificed to help me," says  Ruzicka. "If I walk away now that would be the wrong thing." 

Clint Pischel just recently got married. He and his wife are expecting their first baby.

Nebraska Farm Bureau said they raised nearly a half million dollars in the first week. If you'd like to help, click here.

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