Financial strain hits Nebraska

A month after a harsh winter storm in rural south-central Nebraska, some tiny towns are still running on generators, and financial burdens are stretching families to the breaking point.

BY SUSAN KIM | HOLDREGE, Nebraska | January 26, 2007



"We know each other better because we've done a lot together."

—Rev. Jami Anderson


A month after a harsh winter storm in rural south-central Nebraska, some tiny towns are still running on generators, and financial burdens are stretching families to the breaking point.

On Dec. 29-30, a storm system dumped snow and ice on the entire state, crumpling major power lines and leaving small towns without power for weeks. More than 30,000 rural residents were blacked out.

In the town of Holdrege, population 5,500, there was simply no information going in and out of town for days, said the Rev. Jami Anderson, pastor at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church. "We're farmland, so we depend on cattle and soybeans and cornfields. There were no radio stations. There were no TV stations. There was no information going out. We don't even have urban areas around us. We're two-and-a-half hours from Lincoln, Nebraska."

As power came back to much of the state, Holdrege was still waiting. "As they got emergency power going into other communities, we and a lot of little towns had nothing."

Several days after the storm, one local radio station procured a generator, and began sending out emergency reports.

As of Friday, at least two small rural towns on the outskirts of Holdrege were still without power.

Since the storm, the local ministerial association has strengthened its binds, said Anderson. Local churches have been serving meals to community members since the storm hit. "We know each other better because we've done a lot together. Everybody's trying to give a little."

But Anderson is concerned about rural churches that haven't been able to convene for weeks. "Some churches haven't really met for four weeks because things have been so bad."

The storm only briefly hit the national headlines. But Anderson said the personal impact in Holdrege has been devastating. Weeks of lost wages have been a huge financial strain on people who live paycheck to paycheck.

"I was at the bank the other day, and I heard a woman call her husband and say, 'We have $418. What should we take out?' "

People are trying to dig themselves out from the paycheck deficit, said Anderson.

"We're agricultural. We are farms and feedlots."

And people, said Anderson, don't request assistance. "They're embarrassed to ask," said Anderson.

For one young couple, the power outage cost $1,000 - not counting the food they lost. "It's not like they have any savings account," said Anderson.

People in Nebraska might not want to admit it, but they need some help, said Anderson.

"We're a little embarrassed that people think we're in crisis but the honest truth is, we're doing without a lot."


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