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Omaha Magazine

Amidst the Floodwaters: One Year Later

Feb 28, 2020 04:09PM ● By Sandy Matson

In March 2019, massive flooding wreaked havoc on dozens of communities throughout eastern Nebraska and surrounding areas. A combination of late-season snow, ice jams on multiple rivers, and heavy spring rains created the perfect storm, and there was no way to stop the water. The New York Times called it “The Great Flood of 2019,” with flood damage across Nebraska estimated to be over $1.3 billion, according to Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. 

Hawaiian Village, a quiet lake community which sits just north of the Platte River, and one that I am fortunate to call home, was one of the communities hit hard locally. I, unfortunately, was one of the unlucky and unsuspecting flood victims. I sat and watched as water slowly crept up the beach. I did not truly realize the emotional toll that flooding can take until I experienced it firsthand. Even though I am no disaster expert, I would like to share my insights into the process of post-flood relief. Mother Nature can touch anyone, and we are truly vulnerable when it comes to being in her path.

wood table in Sandy Matsons home

When the water subsides and you are ready to start the cleanup process, be prepared for a dreary greeting. It can be difficult to see the damage and destruction that flooding can cause to your once-comfortable home. Here are some important to-do’s to tackle right away, along with a few tips:

1. Haul out wet carpet, drywall, doors, trim, and other belongings.

This is the most important step, as getting the moisture out of your home is imperative. Take every precaution to prevent future deterioration due to mold and excess moisture by doing this as soon as possible. It’s crucial to not put this off. 

2. Clean your affected property.

We had plenty of help from our local disaster team as far as a checklist for cleaning products to use. Soap or cleaning products with a disinfectant for killing germs are a must. (But never mix bleach in the same bucket as other cleaning supplies, as certain combinations can be toxic.) If you are not able to thoroughly clean flood-damaged areas yourself, hire a professional company to do this right away.

3. Call your insurance company.

This turned out to be a teachable moment for us, as we initially missed an important clause in our policy. Lucky for us, though, we ended up benefiting a great deal. Know your home insurance policy, and be sure to update it as needed. And when damage occurs, report it immediately.

4. Call contractors and drywallers.

Don’t wait, as everyone else will need them, too. It may be a good idea to research a couple companies and save their information prior to a flood or natural disaster so you know who to call quickly. Get several quotes and be prepared to make fast decisions. Beware of scammers that may swoop into town to take advantage of vulnerable homeowners. Save all receipts for any work you do or any product you buy to aid in the flood relief, as insurance companies will require these when deciding your insurance benefit.

We chose to contract out the drywall and electrical work and carpet installation. My husband and I did all the trim work and painting ourselves. This took many late nights and weekends, but we saved a lot of money in the long run.

5. Put up dust barriers and cover your vents.

Once you start the renovation process, you will be living in a temporary construction site. There will be dust and paint fumes for quite some time. The more steps you take to contain the mess up front, the less you will drag dust all over the house.

Overall, we put the basement back together. And there were some benefits—including a few upgrades and a wet bar addition. My only dilemma then became what to do around the new minibar to complete our basement. I contemplated wallpaper or an accent wall, but both seemed too ordinary. I remembered how much I loved chalk artistry in popular restaurants, and thought that would be a chic yet fun way to complement our beach home. I tracked down Omaha artist Beth Kelley and gave her my ideas and vision reminiscent of a trip to Mexico, and she did the rest. She used chalkboard markers, which are not only vibrant colors but wet-erase, meaning they will wipe off with a damp cloth yet sustain rubbing up against them. I highly recommend doing this somewhere in your house as it's unique and makes a statement. The beauty of it is that you can literally wipe the slate clean if you ever want a change. (However, our love for tequila doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.)

Sandy Matsons remodeled home basement

The end result is a relaxed beach home that we love even more than before the flood. Going through circumstances such as this makes you reprioritize your life, recognizing what is actually important and seeing positives amidst the floodwaters. I like to live with this motto by Teodora Kotsova: “When life gives you lemons, take out the salt and shot glass and fill it with tequila!”


Beth Kelley can be reached at [email protected]

This article was printed in the March/April 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

bathroom in Sandy Matsons remodeled basement