Deadly flood waters in central Nebraska took its vengeance on the Niobrara River and surrounding areas early Thursday morning. Overwhelming ice and water breached the Spencer Dam just south of Spencer at approximately 5:30 a.m. The Boyd-Holt E-911 center received a call from Nebraska Public Power District employees that the dam had been compromised and Highway 281 bridge also was in danger.
The Holt County Sheriff’s Department, O’Neill Fire Department and Holt County Emergency manger were called out.
Holt County Sheriff Ben Matchett and O’Neill Assistant Fire Chief Roger Miller made their way to the dam site along with an O’Neill Police Department officer and Holt County Sheriff’s deputy. On arrival the destructions of the dam and highway was confirmed. Also lost was Angel's Straw Bale Saloon and numerous structures including houses in the valley below the dam.
One male victim was rescued from his house by the O’Neill Fire Department using a boat and rope rescue equipment after he was found trapped by flood waters. Another male victim, Kenny Angel who resided in a house close to the saloon, is believed to be lost to the flood.
“I have been by the Spencer Dam numerous times and what has happened here has to be a once in a lifetime event. Outside of what remains of the power house, their is no real reference to anything. It is just all gone,” said O’Neill Fire Chief Terry Miles.
At this time the power house of the dam remains standing and a small portion of the bridge on the Boyd County side of the river is visible. The approach and most the bridge are gone on the Holt County side of the river.
Up river to the west, the bridge north of Stuart crossing the Niobrara River also was destroyed due to the area flooding.
Due to the blizzard like conditions any further assessment of the damage will have to be made on Friday, according to Chief Miles. Highway 281 will be closed indefinitely as well as other roads in the county. Travel in Holt County is not advised and Highway 281 is blocked off in O’Neill going north.