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The Day After
Thone: 'Terrible devastation'

By the Independent Staff
Originally Published Wednesday, June 4, 1980

Gov. Charles Thone told Grand Island City Council members Wednesday morning that President Carter has been notified about the disaster and will determine if the area is declared a Federal Disaster Area.

Thone, after a short aerial reconnaissance of the area and a tour through town, labeled it a "terrible, terrible devastation".

The governor assured council members the state will provide any help needed and will continue to push for federal disaster aid. Thone appeared at a mid-morning meeting at City Hall.

Carolyn J. Reese, regional representative of the Federal Emergency management Agency in Kansas City, said at the meeting if President Carter does grant federal aid to the area, a disaster system center will be set up immediately.

Reese said the aid could come "as early as today or tomorrow, but it's hard to say." She said when this many people are suffering, the president will surely act promptly.

The regional representative said she arrived in town at 2 a.m. Wednesday and viewed a "great deal of damage." Reese said she also estimated the damage left by a tornado in Omaha that destroyed a large portion of that city.

However, she said it is hard to compare disasters because every one is different and has its own problems, but damage in the area is considerable.

"I have found from experience that people are in shock after a disaster such as this and don't realize how bad it is until they come into the center," she explained. "They want to stay home and clean up their own homes and don't even think about coming into the center."

Bob Olson, Grand Island utilities engineer, told the city council the city's electrical utilities system was "hurt and hurt bad."

He said three substations feed the city, and it will take between $5-15 million to put it back up.

"Water is the first priority," he said. Olson said the city is not maintaining water pressure, but there is some water available to the hospitals.

"It may take three-to-four days to get the full electricity back and that's a very optimistic estimate." Olson estimated 90 percent of the city's electricity is out and will take weeks before full power is restored.

Olson said the hiss in the southeast portion of town that is alarming citizens in that area is steam leaking off a boiler.

"The steam has to be let off the superheater or it'll blow," Olson said.

According to Wayne Bennett, Department of Public Works engineer, the city is not ready to handle a full load of sewage in the city. He said there is standby power to pump some of the sewage out of the city but power is still the key problem.

Bennett said individuals will have to continue putting their waste into the sewer system, and "hopefully it can be pumped out."

Col. Burl Johnson, on hand at the conference, suggested debris in the streets and on homeowner's property be piled on the sides of the streets for a later clean-up date.

However, the first concern is public safety and security. Johnson said between 150-175 National Guardsmen will be on hand by nightfall to police the area and help in clean-up operations.

A daily curfew from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. was set up to stifle sightseers and looters.

Police chief Howard Bacon said every person not in uniform or without a security pass will be turned away from the perimeter of the damaged area.

Fire chief George Arnett said a thorough search was conducted Tuesday night of leveled homes and businesses.

"There are volunteers from Kearney, and from who knows where else, helping out," he said. The volunteers, along with Grand Island firemen, continued the search Wednesday morning and marked the searched homes with x's.

Arnett said one tanker is full now and they will use it before the city utilities will be turned on to help fight fires. He said two searches have been completed and volunteers from all over the area could be sent home.

"We might be able to handle the situation with our own people, now."

Col. Johnson said the whole operation was a "terribly impressive operation. What went on at K-mart last night was an outstanding job of coordinating the diverse groups."