- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

DEWITT, Neb. (AP) - Gov. Pete Ricketts declared a state of emergency in areas of Nebraska affected by tornadoes and flooding, including the southeastern portion of the state where authorities scrambled Thursday to evacuate residents in the wake of nearly a foot of rain.

The Saline County Sheriff’s Office asked DeWitt residents to go to the village hall and be shuttled to a shelter at Tri-County High School south of town because of the swollen Turkey Creek and Big Blue River.

Further south, flooding from the Little Blue River forced some evacuations in southeast Nebraska’s Jefferson County, in and around Fairbury, a city of nearly 4,000. Everyone west of the railroad tracks there were evacuated Thursday, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Jodi Fawl said. Parts of Endicott, a village of about 130 southeast of Beatrice, were also evacuated.

Several highways and local roads in Lincoln and surrounding areas were closed because of runoff from overnight thunderstorms in southeast Nebraska. Lincoln officials said they received reports early Thursday morning of cars floating in intersections, and several people had to be rescued from flooded cars. Many area basements also were flooded.

“Everyone has had safe outcomes,” acting Lincoln Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Jeremy Gegg told the Lincoln Journal Star.

The American Red Cross opened two shelters in Lincoln - at the F Street Community Center and Belmont Elementary School - late Thursday afternoon, and the Salvation Army sent teams to DeWitt and Fairbury to provide meals, snacks and beverages.

In a statement announcing the emergency declaration, NEMA Assistant Director Bryan Tuma urged residents to stay out of flood waters.

“Bacteria and infections can occur as well as unexpected injuries from falling in the water,” Tuma said.

Two roads reopened Thursday afternoon - the Waverly exit on Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 81 at Hebron - though officials urged drivers to be careful because some water remained on the road in spots.

Other roads were still closed, including U.S. Highway 77 south of Nebraska Highway 33, a portion of U.S. Highway 136 near Ruskin and portions of Nebraska Highway 53 near Alexandria. Some rail lines were also impassable because of flooding.

The Lincoln airport reported nearly 7 inches of rain since Wednesday morning, while more than 10 inches was reported around Swanton, 9 inches at Wilber and 8 inches at Western.

Earlier Thursday, Swanton officials worked to rescue people from two homes surrounded by nearly 3 feet of floodwater. A message left Thursday afternoon with Saline County Sheriff Alan Moore seeking information on whether those people were successfully rescued was not returned.

The storm system also produced several tornadoes that swept parts of southeast and south-central Nebraska. Most were small and tore through mostly farmland, though several homes were reported damaged around Grand Island, Roseland and Hebron.

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