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Pancake Day turns 70
  • Updated

H astings Kiwanians celebrated 70 years of helping local kids while providing a tasty breakfast meal with 2022 Pancake Day on June 14 at the Adams County Fairgrounds.

Kiwanians cook and serve pancakes and sausage in a tradition that began in 1953. Patrons receive coffee, milk or juice to complete the meal. Available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the offerings can function as breakfast, lunch or dinner.

For many, the annual event is a social gathering they attend with friends or co-workers.

Mike Johnson, president of the Hastings Noon Kiwanis Club, said members of the group enjoy helping cook or serve the meal.

“Almost every member shows up some time during the day,” he said.

Pancake Day normally is held in March, but it was postponed this year due to the rising cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in the area.

The event serves as the group’s major fundraiser for the year. The club uses funds raised in the effort to support a variety of causes, including Platte Valley Youth For Christ, local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, CASA, and other local organizations that help children.

Johnson said Kiwanis provides dictionaries to every third-grader in Adams County and helps kids shop for their families around Christmas. He also pointed to the recent addition of musical playgrounds in schools across the county, organized by the group.

“It’s all about making lives better for children,” he said.

Local efforts are the Kiwanians’ main focus, but they also participate in international fundraising efforts. The current effort is to eliminate neonatal tetanus, a devastating yet preventable disease that kills babies in their first week of life.

“We do a lot of good as an organization,” Johnson said.

The local chapter celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021 and welcomes new members to its roster.

The group meets at noon every Thursday at Pastime Lanes and Johnson said anyone who would like to learn more about the organization can attend. He said members can volunteer as much or as little as they want. The group also is helping to start a chapter in Aurora.

Johnson said he didn’t realize the number of impoverished children in the community until he joined the Kiwanis club and heard presentations from organizations working to help them.

“There’s more need here than any of us would like to admit,” he said. “It’s here right now and they need us. I hope people keep their eyes open to that need and help where they can.”

Yellowstone flooding forces 10,000 to leave national park
Yellowstone officials are assessing the damage caused by a deluge of floodwaters that forced the evacuation of parts of the iconic national park just as the summer tourism season was ramping up
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RED LODGE, Mont. — More than 10,000 visitors were ordered out of Yellowstone as unprecedented flooding tore through the northern half of the nation’s oldest national park, washing out bridges and roads and sweeping an employee bunkhouse miles downstream, officials said Tuesday. Remarkably, no one was reported injured or killed.

The only visitors left in the massive park straddling three states were a dozen campers still making their way out of the backcountry.

Yellowstone National Park, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, could remain closed as long as a week, and northern entrances may not reopen this summer, Superintendent Cam Sholly said.

“The water is still raging,” said Sholly, who noted that some weather forecasts include the possibility of additional flooding this weekend.

The Yellowstone River hit historic levels after days of rain and rapid snowmelt and wrought havoc across parts of southern Montana and northern Wyoming, where it washed away cabins, swamped small towns and knocked out power. It hit the park just as a summer tourist season that draws millions of visitors was ramping up.

Instead of marveling at massive elk and bison, burbling thermal pools and the reliable blast of Old Faithful’s geyser, tourists found themselves witnessing nature at its most unpredictable as the Yellowstone River river crested in a chocolate brown torrent that washed away everything in its path.

“It is just the scariest river ever,” Kate Gomez of Santa Fe, New Mexico, said Tuesday. “Anything that falls into that river is gone.”

Waters were only starting to recede Tuesday, and the full extent of the destruction may not be known for a while. It was not expected to have affected wildlife.

Closure of the northern part of the park will keep visitors from features that include Tower Fall, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar Valley, which is known for viewing wildlife such as bears and wolves. Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake and viewing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone are on the park’s southern loop road and likely to be reopened.

Sholly said the backpackers who remained in the park had been contacted. Crews were prepared to evacuate them by helicopter, but that hasn’t been needed yet, he said.

Sholly said he didn’t believe the park had ever shut down from flooding.

Gomez and her husband were among hundreds of tourists stuck in Gardiner, Montana, a town of about 800 residents at the park’s north entrance. The town was cut off for more than a day until Tuesday afternoon, when crews reopened part of a washed away two-lane road.

While the flooding can’t directly be attributed to climate change, it came as the Midwest and East Coast sizzle from a heat wave and other parts of the West burn from an early wildfire season amid a persistent drought that has increased the frequency and intensity of fires that are having broader impacts. Smoke from a fire in the mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona, could be seen in Colorado.

Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said a warming environment makes extreme weather events more likely than they would have been “without the warming that human activity has caused.”

“Will Yellowstone have a repeat of this in five or even 50 years? Maybe not, but somewhere will have something equivalent or even more extreme,” he said.

Heavy rain on top of melting mountain snow pushed the Yellowstone, Stillwater and Clarks Fork rivers to record levels Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Officials in Yellowstone and in several southern Montana counties were assessing damage from the storms, which also triggered mudslides and rockslides. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster.

Some of the worst damage happened in the northern part of the park and Yellowstone’s gateway communities in southern Montana. National Park Service photos showed mud and rock slides, washed out bridges and roads undercut by churning floodwaters of the Gardner and Lamar rivers.

In Red Lodge, Montana, a town of 2,100 that’s a popular jumping-off point for a scenic, winding route into the Yellowstone high country, a creek running through town jumped its banks and swamped the main thoroughfare, leaving trout swimming in the street a day later under sunny skies.

At least 200 homes flooded in the city and in Fromberg, Carbon County authorities said.

Residents described a harrowing scene where the water went from a trickle to a torrent over just a few hours.

The water toppled telephone poles, knocked over fences and carved deep fissures in the ground through a neighborhood of hundreds of houses. Power was restored by Tuesday, though there was still no running water in the affected neighborhood.

Heidi Hoffman left early Monday to buy a sump pump in Billings, but by the time she returned her basement was full of water.

“We lost all our belongings in the basement,” Hoffman said as the pump removed a steady stream of water into her muddy backyard. “Yearbooks, pictures, clothes, furniture. Were going to be cleaning up for a long time.”

On Monday, Yellowstone officials evacuated the northern part of the park, where roads may remain impassable for a substantial length of time, Sholly said. But the flooding affected the rest of the park, too, with park officials warning of yet higher flooding and potential problems with water supplies and wastewater systems at developed areas.

The rains hit just as area hotels have filled up in recent weeks with summer tourists. More than 4 million visitors were tallied by the park last year. The wave of tourists doesn’t abate until fall, and June is typically one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.

It was unclear how many visitors to the region remained stranded, or how many people who live outside the park were rescued and evacuated.

Mark Taylor, owner and chief pilot of Rocky Mountain Rotors, said his company airlifted about 40 paying customers over the past two days from Gardiner, including two women who were “very pregnant.”

Taylor spoke as he ferried a family of four adults from Texas, who wanted to do some more sightseeing before heading home.

“I imagine they’re going to rent a car and they’re going to go check out some other parts of Montana — somewhere drier,” he said.

At a cabin in Gardiner, Parker Manning of Terre Haute, Indiana, got an up-close view of the roiling Yellowstone River floodwaters just outside his door. Entire trees and even a lone kayaker floated by.

In early evening, he shot video as the waters ate away at the opposite bank where a large brown house that had been home to park employees, who had evacuated, was precariously perched.

In a large cracking sound heard over the river’s roar, the house tipped into the waters and was pulled into the current. Sholly said it floated 5 miles before sinking.

In south-central Montana, flooding on the Stillwater River stranded 68 people at a campground. Stillwater County Emergency Services agencies and Stillwater Mine crews rescued people Monday from the Woodbine Campground by raft. Some roads in the area were closed and residents were evacuated.

The towns of Cooke City and Silvergate, just east of the park, were also isolated by floodwaters.

In Livingston, residents in low-lying neighborhoods were told to leave and the city’s hospital was evacuated as a precaution after its driveway flooded.

Officials in Park County, which includes Gardiner and Cooke City, said extensive flooding throughout the county had made drinking water unsafe in many areas.

The Montana National Guard said Monday it sent two helicopters to southern Montana to help with evacuations.

In the hamlet of Nye, at least four cabins washed into the Stillwater River, said Shelley Blazina, including one she owned.

“It was my sanctuary,” she said Tuesday. “Yesterday I was in shock. Today I’m just in intense sadness.”

The Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs crested at 13.88 feet Monday, higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet set in 1918, according the the National Weather Service.

Yellowstone got 2.5 inches of rain Saturday, Sunday and into Monday. The Beartooth Mountains northeast of Yellowstone got as much as 4 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

In a boost, McConnell backs Senate bipartisan gun deal
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced his support for his chamber’s emerging bipartisan gun agreement
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his support Tuesday for his chamber’s emerging bipartisan gun agreement, boosting momentum for modest but notable election-year action by Congress on an issue that’s deadlocked lawmakers for three decades.

The Kentucky Republican said he hoped an outline of the accord, released Sunday by 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, would be translated into legislation and enacted. McConnell’s backing was the latest indication that last month’s gun massacres in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, had reconfigured the political calculations for some in the GOP after years of steadfastly opposing even incremental tightening of firearms curbs.

“If this framework becomes the actual piece of legislation, it’s a step forward, a step forward on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell told reporters. He said the proposal “further demonstrates to the American people” that lawmakers can work together on significant issues “to make progress for the country.”

McConnell’s comments were striking, coming five months before midterm elections in which Republicans hope to win control of the Senate and seem likely to win a majority in the House. For years, GOP candidates could risk their careers by defying the views of the party’s loyal gun-owning and rural voters, who oppose moves seen as threatening their ownership and use of firearms.

McConnell seemed to suggest that backing this gun measure might even help some Republicans’ prospects in November. While he said senators should take a position “based upon the views of their states,” he said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a chief architect of the deal, presented GOP polling data at a closed-door senators’ lunch saying support among gun owners for the agreement’s provisions is “off the charts, overwhelming.”

The plan would for the first time make the juvenile records of gun buyers under age 21 part of required background checks. Money would be sent to states for mental health and school security programs and for incentives to enforce or enact local “red flag” laws that let authorities win court approval to temporarily remove guns from people considered dangerous.

Senators and aides hope to translate their broad agreement into legislation in days, in hopes that Congress could approve it before leaving for its July 4 recess. Both sides acknowledge that is a difficult process that could encounter disputes and delays.

Some Republicans expressed unhappiness with the plan Tuesday, with much criticism aimed at its encouragement of “red flag” laws. Nineteen states mostly dominated by Democrats and the District of Columbia have them, but Republicans have blocked efforts in Congress to pass federal legislation on the subject.

“If we’re not going to pass a federal red flag law, and we shouldn’t, why would we incentivize states to do something that we think is a bad idea?” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

“I don’t know what we can do in view of the Constitution,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said of the overall agreement, citing the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Cornyn defended the plan’s “red flag” proposal, saying it would create no national requirements for such laws. He said it gives “every state regardless of whether it has a ‘red flag’ law or not” money for programs aimed at improving public safety and helping troubled people get assistance. Texas does not have a “red flag” law.

McConnell made clear he would only go so far in restricting firearms.

Asked by a reporter why the federal minimum age is 21 for tobacco sales but 18 to buy rifles, he answered, “Good try.” He added that including state and local juvenile records in background checks for the youngest guy buyers was “a step in the right direction.”

The alleged shooters in Buffalo, where 10 people were killed, and Uvalde, where 19 school children and two teachers were slain, were both 18 years old, a common profile for many mass shooters.

A final agreement on overall legislation would be expected to receive solid support from Democrats. But it would need at least 10 GOP votes to reach the Senate’s usual 60 vote threshold, and McConnell’s plaudits raised hopes that Republican backing would grow beyond that.

The framework also broadens the type of domestic abusers who’d be prohibited from buying guns, require more firearms sellers to conduct background checks and impose tougher penalties on gun traffickers.

The National Rifle Association said Sunday it wouldn’t take a position on the proposal until full legislation is produced. It warned it would oppose “gun control policies” or infringements on people’s “fundamental right to protect themselves.”

The pro-gun lobby still has political muscle from its millions of dedicated members, who vote heavily on firearms issues. But GOP support for the new package is the latest threat to its power following recent financial scandals and lawsuits.

Approval seems likely by the Democratic-run House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has praised the measure as a first step toward strong restrictions in the future.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would schedule votes on the legislation as soon as it is ready. He contrasted recent days’ progress with Congress’ failure to act after a parade of mass shootings in recent decades.

“After Uvalde and Buffalo, perhaps this time could be different. To many senators on both sides, this debate certainly feels different,” Schumer said.

Congress’ last major gun measure was an assault weapons ban that took effect in 1994 but expired 10 years later.

South Heartland urges COVID-19 vaccination for young children
  • Updated

With young children’s doses of vaccines against COVID-19 soon to be available locally, the South Heartland District Health Department is encouraging that children as young as 6 months of age be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.

In the health department’s weekly update on local COVID-19 conditions Tuesday evening, Michele Bever, the department’s executive director, said the agency is expecting approval and recommendations for use of the Tender Care pediatric COVID vaccines yet this week and arrival of vaccine next week.

The products being delivered are to include Moderna (for children age 6 months to 6 years) and Pfizer (for children age 6 months to 4 years). Both now have been approved to provide protection against the novel coronavirus disease in such young patients.

“We know that COVID vaccination is very important for all ages. We will finally be able to provide that option for parents wanting to protect their very young children,” Bever said. “Getting children vaccinated can help them from getting really sick even if they do get infected. Vaccination can also help prevent serious short- and long-term complications of COVID-19.”

The South Heartland district includes Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

Bever said that even among individuals who already have contracted the viral infection, it isn’t too late for anyone, including children, to get vaccinated and begin building protection against severe illness that could be caused by the current or future variants of the virus.

Children or teens with underlying medical conditions or a weakened immune system are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. Those without underlying medical conditions aren’t immune from serious illness, however.

Bever reported 51 new confirmed COVID-19 cases among district residents were logged last week, compared to 47 the week before.

Another 27 confirmed cases had been logged so far for this week by Tuesday.

At this point, all such numbers are understood to be undercounts since new cases of COVID-19 identified through at-home testing most often aren’t reported to the health department.

Bever also reported the first BA.4 omicron subvariant in the South Heartland district had been identified through sequencing.

“Statewide, BA.2 is still the most common variant, although the proportion of cases caused by BA.4 and BA.5 variants continues to grow,” she said.

While most current cases of COVID-19 are mild or asymptomatic, the health department recommends individuals with underlying health conditions and those who live with, work with or care for others with underlying health conditions, should take precautions to reduce exposure.

“All who are eligible should stay up to date on their COVID vaccinations to protect themselves and others from getting very ill,” Bever said.

South Heartland continues to encourage residents to have at-home test kits on hand and to test if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

The community test positivity rate, or “community positivity,” in the district last week was 18.5%, down slightly from the previous week.

Positivity is the number of known new confirmed cases of COVID-19 among district residents, divided by the total number of tests known to have been performed. Community positivity doesn’t include surveillance testing of long-term care facility residents and workers.

In the past two weeks, six long-term care centers in the district reported residents, staff or both testing positive for COVID-19. A total of 16 residents and six staff members tested positive in those six facilities combined.

Known testing decreased slightly last week, with 437 tests logged — down 2% from 443 the previous week. Reminder: at-home/self-tests aren’t included in the case or test counts.

As of Tuesday, one hospital in-patient in the district was being treated for COVID-19, and 82% of staffed intensive care beds in district hospitals were available for new patients.

For information on local testing and vaccination sites, visit