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No one's happy that the South Platte River is flooding.
But for now, Nebraskans are counting their blessings — this isn't Colorado, where homes, businesses and lives have been washed away.
Unlike the sudden onslaught of floodwaters there, Nebraskans have had time to prepare.
Ron Bloomquist, an Ogallala resident who has property that flooded in Colorado, said the extra time has been a relief.
As was the case elsewhere along the South Platte in Nebraska, Bloomquist and his neighbors spent part of Wednesday sandbagging.
“At least we're getting a warning — everyone here can move their property out prior to having to worry about loss of life,” he said.
Flooding is expected to continue as the surge moves east down the South Platte and into the larger Platte River over the next several days.
Much of the land initially at risk is pasture or cropland, and the cities along the river for at least the first 75 miles don't sit directly on the South Platte, so officials were optimistic.
The National Weather Service forecast that the South Platte would rise quickly.
For instance, the river measured 1.6 feet deep near Roscoe, Neb., on Wednesday morning. By this afternoon, it was expected to be 12.5 feet deep, shattering the depth record of 11.3 feet.
In North Platte, the river was expected to rise from 5.3 feet to 13.9 feet on Saturday. Officials expect some neighborhoods and a golf course to experience flooding.
Emergency officials got their first accurate river measurement Wednesday, when a crew was able to take a manual reading of the crest at Julesburg, Colo. Accurate readings weren't possible earlier because the force of the water had broken river gauges.
Brian Dunnigan, head of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said the Julesburg reading indicated that flows into Nebraska would not be as strong as had been feared.
The state will begin releasing inundation maps today, he said. Those maps will be for communities on the South Platte and several communities on the Platte River. More maps will be released as information is developed, he said.
The maps will give the public an idea of the likely extent of flooding but won't reflect any unexpected local flooding resulting from a logjam.
For now, the weather service is projecting minor flooding in Kearney and Grand Island next week, when the flood surge arrives there. The water isn't expected to reach the Omaha area until the end of the month or early October.
There was good news Wednesday in the preliminary flood map that the Department of Natural Resources provided to Ogallala. It indicated that flooding was unlikely to reach the main part of town and would instead remain south of the Union Pacific tracks on the south edge of town.
At Ogallala on Wednesday night, more than 50 people gathered to watch as the surge of Colorado floodwaters filled in the mostly dry South Platte riverbed. The river was expected to spill out of its banks overnight and crest today.
“Like any town, we've all come together to do the best we can to get through this,” said Bloomquist, who was among those waiting.
The big worry is whether logjams will occur at choke points in the river. If that happens, sudden and severe local flooding can occur.
Pete Peterson, emergency manager for Keith County, said state roads officials have positioned staff and equipment to extract debris from under bridges should it get jammed.
“We're got no major issues to report so far,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
The flooding is the result of a week of extraordinary rains across a large area of Colorado. In the Boulder area, about 20 inches of rain fell, qualifying as a 1,000-year event, the weather service said.
About 200 people remained missing Wednesday in Colorado, where at least eight people had been killed and more than 7,200 homes and businesses had been destroyed.
Complicating matters was a report late Wednesday that at least 5,250 gallons of crude oil had spilled into the South Platte south of Milliken, Colo.
The Denver Post said the spill from a damaged tank was reported by Anadarko Petroleum. Flooding has toppled dozens of oil and gas storage tanks and swamped production facilities, the Post reported.
Mike Moritz, a weather service meteorologist who issues forecasts for central Nebraska, said the extraordinary rainfall in Boulder doesn't automatically translate into similarly rare flooding in Nebraska. “Just because it's bad in Colorado doesn't mean it will be bad in (central) Nebraska,” he said.
Still, central Nebraskans along the Platte River can expect a “significant and quick rise” when the flood pulse arrives next week, he said. “Just because the river is dry doesn't mean it can't flood.”
Dunnigan characterized the South Platte flooding in Nebraska as something less than a 1 in 100-year flood. However, it's nothing to ignore.
The South Platte is unaccustomed to large floods. The last one of this magnitude occurred in 1965. “This is still a big deal,” he said. “It's going to get (to) people who haven't been wet in their lifetimes.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
Colorado floodwaters reach Big Springs, Neb.
Maps: Potential flooding along South Platte River
• North Platte: 1, 2