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Northeast evacuates on-campus students to nearby church as floodwaters rise

Northeast evacuates on-campus students to nearby church as floodwaters rise

NORFOLK, NE – Northeast Community College has taken emergency action to evacuate its students living on its Norfolk campus due to rising floodwaters on the nearby North Fork River.

At the request of City of Norfolk officials, college officials abided by a request Thursday morning to move students off-campus. Approximately 545 students who live in Burkhardt, Path and Simon (residence) halls were transported off campus by Northeast busses, while others used their own vehicles. Many of the students are staying with family and friends, but approximately 200 others are in one location at First Christian Church at Benjamin Avenue and Victory Road – approximately a half-mile from the campus.

“The safety or our students and employees is of the utmost importance to us,” said Dr. Michael Chipps, president. “We want parents, loved ones and friends to all know that our students are in good hands here.”

Northeast Community College falls within the evacuation zone that city officials identified as an area for potential flooding since the campus is adjacent to the city’s flood control levee.  

Chipps said work on the north side of campus over the past year has played an important role in reducing storm runoff on that side of campus.

“The board of governors authorized a storm water drainage system and detention pond to channel the flow of water and move it away from the residence halls and other campus buildings. That work was brought into full action the past few days as the normally dry detention pond has turned into a churning lake. We are so fortunate to have this system in place for dire situations like today.”

The Northeast Emergency Response team, led by John Blaylock, executive vice president, gathered early this morning to prepare for the evacuation. Chipps said the team did an exceptional job of organizing and executing the evacuation.

“The Emergency Operations Center has been in action for several hours and continues to do an amazing job. It is also inspiring for College officials to work alongside the Resident Assistant/Student Assistant team who continues to provide superior leadership in carrying out the evacuation. Their leadership skills have been put to the test and they are commended for their leadership.”

Chipps spoke to the students and thanked them for the way they handled the evacuation.

“Students, I always thought you were amazing, but you continue to demonstrate that over and over again like what you did here this morning. Thanks for being very receptive to the evacuation and doing what we asked you to do.”

Chartwells, Northeast food service provider, supplied some food while 150 pizzas were ordered from local establishments to feed the students both lunch and supper.

Carli Huston, RA (residence assistant) team member in Path Hall, of Holdrege, offered encouraging words to her fellow students.

“We’re all in this together and it’s going to be okay even though this is not the best of situations. Like Dr. Chipps said, we just want to make sure everyone is safe.”

She also encouraged the students to make the most of the situation.

“Get to know one another because we might not ever get this type of opportunity to be together like this again. Get to know the people sitting around you.”

Pastor Tim DeFor said his church was asked to house the students after receiving phone calls from Chipps and Norfolk Mayor Josh Moenning.

“Every time we have an opportunity to do something like this to help meet the needs of people in northeast Nebraska, we are happy to do so. This is what we are here for.”

DeFor gives praise to his staff and volunteers for assisting the students.

“They have all stepped up. They have set aside their normal load and they keep asking ‘What can I do?’ They have provided comfortable places for the students to relax, watch movies, game space, study space, sleep space and coordinating with Chartwells to provide food. We’re all doing our best to accommodate them.”

DeFor said First Christian has joined Northeast staff in providing 24/7 supervision during the duration of the evacuation to ensure that students’ needs are being met.

All Northeast locations in Norfolk, O’Neill, South Sioux City and West Point will be closed on Friday. As far as the students are concerned, Chipps said he has been informed by city officials that students will need to remain off campus for the time being.   

“This is a complex and delicate situation in many parts of our service area. Our prayers go out to those who have been impacted by the floodwaters. I assure all of you that the response by College staff evidenced by me this morning is one of Northeast’s finest hours.”



                                                   PHOTO CUTLINE


Students in Burkhardt and Simon (residence) halls at Northeast Community College in Norfolk prepare to evacuate Thursday morning after an order from the City of Norfolk after floodwaters from the nearby North Fork River threatened the campus. As of Thursday evening, the river remained within its banks near the college.