Parts of Buffalo, Phelps and Franklin Counties in central Nebraska reported flash flooding Tuesday morning as lines of thunderstorms dumped as much as 9 inches of rain.
"We had a couple rounds of thunderstorms roll through last night leaving 6 to 9 inches of rain in the area," said Aaron Mangels, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Hastings. "It's an incredible amount of rain on ground that is already saturated."
Kearney city officials urged drivers to use "extreme caution" Tuesday as they navigated roadways in the area, as many streets were flooded and some were closed because of high water.
Many areas in south Kearney have water over the roadways due to rivers in the area spilling over their banks and backing water into city streets.
Yanney Park in Kearney was closed because of high water.
Floodwaters on 30th Avenue next to Kearney High School reportedly were knee-deep. An estimated 50 people were stuck in their homes in the area due to flooding, according to the Kearney Police Department.
Kearney Police Chief Bryan Waugh tweeted Tuesday that his officers helped with at least 25 stranded motorists overnight, towing 15 vehicles that were abandoned or stalled on flooded streets. "For your safety and the safety of First Responders, please avoid flooded areas or temptations to drive by," he wrote.
Water was 4 feet deep in some areas of Kearney, said Darrin Lewis, the emergency management director for Buffalo County. At one point, he found himself chest-deep in floodwater.
"Many of the streets in Kearney last night were underwater," Lewis said. "The water is starting to recede today, but it was 4 feet deep in several places, and up to my chest in one place."
About 10 families were evacuated from the Van Beit trailer park Tuesday night, Lewis said. Authorities were preparing to open shelters but, fortunately, all those evacuated had friends or families who were able to put them up.
On the campus of the University of Nebraska at Kearney, 2-3 inches of water flowed about 150 feet into the student union, said Todd Gottula, a university spokesman. Landscaping bark was floating in the Starbucks, he said.
"We have a number of buildings with leaky roofs," Gottula said. "That is getting water into stairwells across campus."
He noted that a lot of water had settled in the basement of the Otte Olsen Building.
"Kearney as a community right now is scrambling," Gottula said. "I'm hearing about homes flooded that have never experienced water damage, water seeping through window wells."
Turkey Creek near the new high school is out of its banks, he said.
"Our downtown area was completely flooded last night and early this morning," Gottula said. "A lot of businesses took on water."
Motorists are advised not to travel U.S. Highway 30 due to flooding. A post on the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department's Facebook page said residents should stay off area roads.
"You cannot get from Kearney to Elm Creek on (Highway 30)," Mangels said. Kearney first responders, he said, have been making "a lot of rescues from cars and some homes."
South and west of Kearney, the cities of Lexington, Cozad and Holdrege also were dealing with flooded roads and basements after being inundated with rain overnight.
A temporary shelter was being set up Tuesday at Lexington High School to take in displaced families, said Brian Woldt, Dawson County's emergency manager.
Cozad officials were asking residents to hold off on flushing toilets or taking showers after the sewer system was overrun with rainwater.
Woldt said he heard that 6 inches of rain fell just west of Cozad, and potentially 7 to 8 inches in the Cozad-Lexington area.
Loomis, which is about 38 miles southwest of Kearney, reported 8.88 inches of rain overnight, the National Weather Service reported.
"The area is inundated with water" after a soggy spring, Woldt said, though Dawson County avoided the devastating flooding that hit eastern Nebraska earlier in March.
Communities were sandbagging homes and first responders had to rescue at least one driver stranded in high water south of Cozad.
Water was running over U.S. Highway 30 in several places from Overton to west of Cozad, but the highway remained open at midday.
In Holdrege, flooded areas include the local golf course and country club and the Nebraska Prairie Museum. Around 5 a.m., city workers shut off power to seven houses near the golf course due to concerns about flooded basements.
"The golf course just looks like a big lake," said Brian Brinkman, the electrical superintendent for the City of Holdrege.
The rain, 5 to 6 inches of it, came fast and furious from about 8 p.m. to midnight Monday night, he said, though by late morning Tuesday it was starting to slowly recede.
"It came so fast it pooled in people's yards, streets ... the storm sewers were overwhelmed," Brinkman said.
Deep water has pooled at a railroad underpass in the southeast part of Holdrege. Several cars were mostly underwater, Brinkman said.
Several rivers in the area are expected to overflow their banks, said Mangels, the Hastings-based meteorologist. Flooding is expected along the Platte and Blue Rivers as well as the Wood River.
"The Wood River could be nearly as high, if not as high, as the flooding in March," Mangels said. "The Republican River is also rising, with flooding possible near Cambridge, Guide Rock and Superior."
More rain is forecast in the area Tuesday night, Mangels said. The forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, however, calls for mostly dry conditions.
"The forecast is drier for five to seven days," he said. "Hopefully, that will be the case."
The World-Herald News Service and World-Herald staff writer Bob Glissmann contributed to this report.