An evacuation order has been given for a significant portion of Norfolk as of Thursday morning.
The large area roughly covers west to east from Seventh Street to Victory Road and from the Elkhorn River to Eisenhower Avenue from south to north.
Public safety director Shane Weidner strongly urged anyone in that area to heed the evacuation order, especially those in low-lying areas south of Omaha Avenue.
There are also road closures north of First Street at Eisenhower and the Omaha Avenue/Highway 275/24 intersection. Evacuation routes are on Benjamin Avenue and Norfolk Avenue.
Weidner said shelters have been set up at the Lutheran High Northeast gym, and a secondary shelter is at Bel Air Elementary. He said the city also is working to open Norfolk Catholic High School’s gym and the Ponca Tribe’s gym as shelters.
“As we feared overnight, things have gone from bad to worse,” Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning said. “We urge citizens, unless absolutely necessary, to stay inside unless they’re in the evacuation area, and to be very, very cautious.”
Weidner said there is no specific time frame for how long the order will last and it’s difficult to predict when conditions will improve. He said the city would likely hold another press conference Thursday, possibly later in the morning.
Weidner said flood control systems are functioning as they should, but they are now full. Because of this, the evacuation order is being issued as a precaution.
“Right now, it’s working and we’re in decent shape,” Weidner said. “But we’re expecting more water.”
He said citizens are their own best resources, as the city’s resources are stretched thin and emergency services should be called only in case of real emergencies.
Weidner strongly advised everyone to avoid driving through flooded roads, as one person and a vehicle were lost Wednesday night.
He did not elaborate on whether the person was still missing.
An emergency operations center has been set up and can be reached at 402-844-2241.
“We’re seeing water and flooding in places where we typically don’t see water,” Weidner said. “We’re getting good flow on the Elkhorn River right now, but we’re seeing a large amount of ice being carried with great velocity.”
Todd Volk, Madison County sheriff, said people should remain off the roads and if they need to travel somewhere, don’t risk driving through any areas with water.
“If you have water over the road, don’t drive through it,” Volk said. “We don’t need people out, being dangerous, because if you get stuck, we have to risk our lives to get you out.”
Volk said there was a pickup carrying three passengers that was washed up off the road and stranded in Pierce County.
Weidner also said that Norfolk sewer and water systems are under stress because of the amount of water, so he said residents should avoid using water as much as possible.
“We want to limit the amount of water we’re putting in our sanitary sewer, so that means showers, toilets, kitchen sinks ... really limit that to the best of our abilities,” Weidner said.
Volk said a number of locations are available throughout the county for residents who cannot get home through impassable roads. Those locations include Madison City Auditorium, the Tilden fire hall, Battle Creek fire hall, Newman Grove fire hall and Meadow Grove fire hall. Those areas will be open overnight.
Weidner said levee patrols had been deployed to continue to monitor the levee, as it will see flows that it has never encountered since it was built in the 1960s.
“(The levee) will be tested,” Weidner said. “It is well built, it is a solid levee, and we anticipate great success. However, with this amount of flow, we want to make sure that we’re not taking any unnecessary chances.”
He said people should avoid being on trails near the levee or on the levee itself, as well as cautioning people near the North Fork of the Elkhorn River.
Moenning and his staff also declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon to make as many resources as possibly available. The Madison County commissioners also declared a state of emergency throughout the county.