Editors note: I wrote this column, after little sleep, following the 2015 flood that gave Niobrara County a devastating blow. Two years later, it still brings back those vivid memories for me. Take a moment as you gather on June 3 for Niobrara Strong Day to remember the amazing strength and resiliance our community showed and continues to demonstrate.
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 anyways.
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.
And we did.....