2010 Midlanders of the Year

This is the 47th year that The World-Herald has named Midlanders of the Year. Sometimes the selections have been individuals. At other times, collective notables have been chosen. As The World-Herald honors those who worked so long, so valiantly and so successfully to battle Missouri River floodwaters last summer, we can highlight only a few whose dedication made a difference. The people featured here represent so many, many more. We thank you all, and we salute your efforts.

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Five flood fighters typify The World-Herald Midlanders of the Year for 2011:

The Guardsman

Mark Zimmerman
of Leigh, Neb.

The junkyard’s tin fence was Sgt. 1st Class Mark Zimmerman’s river gauge.

Before falling back to higher ground, someone drew black lines every 6 inches up from the ground on a fence panel of the riverside auto salvage yard.

Zimmerman watched floodwater climb 18 inches up the fence one day. The salvage yard was under 30 inches of water at one point.

“It was like a tide,” Zimmerman said. “Down at night and up in the day.”

Zimmerman was one of 1,300 Army and Air National Guard troops from Nebraska and Iowa activated to aid communities fighting the flood.

Read more of Zimmerman's story.
The Fire Chief

Dan Sturm
of Hamburg, Iowa

Three times the flooding Missouri River breached the big river levee in Atchison County, Mo., about five miles southwest of Hamburg, Iowa.

Three times the sand-based levee sealed itself.

The fourth breach was different.

Farmer Dan Sturm, a paramedic and chief of Hamburg’s volunteer firefighters, joined a crew of men on patrol, watching for oozing water on the dry side of the levee. They traveled in three or four pickup trucks loaded with sandbags.

At one point, they noticed a pool of water on the levee’s dry side.

“We knew something wasn’t right,’’ Sturm said.

Read more of Sturm's story.
The Diver

Bill Beal
of Omaha

Bill Beal was swimming blind.

With two air tanks lashed to his legs, he felt his way through a flooded culvert deep inside an earthen levee. A full-body suit protected him from the dirty floodwater. A tether line trailed behind him to the surface more than 20 feet above.

“It’s black water ... it’s pitch black. You just close your eyes; it’s almost like your mind’s eye sees everything,” he said.

Beal’s objective was to find and plug a 36-inch culvert with a faulty flap gate that was allowing Missouri River water onto Offutt Air Force Base.

“Everyone was super tense,” he said. “There were a lot of serious people there. It had to get done.”

Read more of Beal's story.
The Electrician

Scott Brooks
of Neola, Iowa

A determined electrician and a bandaged electrical cable helped Council Bluffs limp through the Missouri River flood.

Bluffs Public Works electrician Scott Brooks got the call about 2 p.m. one hot Sunday in July: The last permanent working pump at a levee pumping station in the southwest area of Council Bluffs had shut down. Two other pumps at the site died days earlier.

Without at least one of the giant, 250-horsepower electric pumps pouring floodwater back over the levee and into the river, constant seepage and pooling rain would flood the Twin City neighborhood south of Interstate 80 and the Western Historic Trails Center.

Read more of Brooks' story.
The Field Commander

Gordon Andersen
of Omaha

They turned back the tide.

While many Omahans focused on the dire Missouri River flood threat to Eppley Airfield and TD Ameritrade Park’s inaugural College World Series, an army of workers, most mustered from street, parks and sewer crews across the city, built a new levee protecting a critical sewage treatment plant from rising water.

About 350 people filled and threw sandbags and hauled in 3,000 truckloads of dirt as the City of Omaha sculpted and hardened a nearly half-mile-long earthen defense.

Their general was Gordon Andersen, a 50-year-old Public Works Department manager who was the city’s field commander in its flood fight.

Read more of Andersen's story.

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