KEARNEY, Neb. — Last July 9, after floodwaters wrecked the interior of his 42-room Western Inn South, Bhikhabhai Chaudhari struggled to smile.
Now, thanks to assistance from Kearney businesses and individuals, Chaudhari is beaming. He reopened his motel late this fall and effusively praises those who helped him recover.
“I am very thankful, very thankful,” he told the Kearney Hub.
Chaudhari wasn’t smiling last July 10 as he watched a skid-steer loader scoop up flood-ruined mattresses and heap them in a dumspter. The day before, water had risen 4-5 inches throughout the ground-floor motel at 510 Third Ave. Water also trickled in from the roof and damaged ceilings and walls.
As heavy equipment operators worked, Chaudhari stacked chairs, beds, nightstands and small tables in front of the motel rooms and offered them to anyone who stopped by.
He had purchased the motel just seven months earlier, on Dec. 18, 2018, and moved his family to Kearney from Beaumont, Calif., where he had managed a Rodeway Inn for eight years. They lived in a small apartment in the motel. Business was on the upswing. Then came the flood.
Police rescued Chaudhari and his family from the rising water the morning of July 9 and took them to Tractor Supply Co. at 514 Third Ave. From there, the family went to the Econolodge at 709 Second Ave. They then moved in with relatives in Hastings.
In the days following the flood, Shanna Schulte, program director of the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, stopped in at chamber members’ businesses to see if they needed any help. Chaudhari was distraught. Touched by his plight (“he was one of those in the most need of help”) Schulte went back to the chamber and chatted with the staff about what the chamber might do to assist him.
Derek Rusher, the chamber’s president and executive director, called around to find volunteers who might help him. Two days later, the basketball team from the University of Nebraska at Kearney went to the Western Inn South and pulled out all the ruined carpet and furniture in just four hours.
Rusher and many others assisted, too. They helped clear the trash and load it into dumpsters.
“We had quite a crew to help them,” Schulte said.
The timing was ironic because Chaudhari had joined the chamber just one month earlier and was becoming an active member. “Then the flood hit,” Schulte said.
Chaudhari was amazed at the volunteers’ efforts. “I made one phone call, and all the young men came over,” he said.
Shortly after that, repairs began.
Chaudhari purchased new doors and doorjambs, paint, gypsum wallboard, sinks, countertops and more at Kearney stores and hired people to do the repair work. He pitched in, too.
On Oct. 14, just three months after the flood, the chamber held a formal ribbon-cutting as Chaudhari reopened half of his rooms. The rest opened in mid-November.
Chaudhari can’t say enough about the people of Kearney. He has given a donation to the UNK basketball team. He also credits Rod Peters, branch president of Heritage Bank, the bank through which Chaudhari financed the purchase of the motel. “He helped me do everything,” Chaudhari said.
Peters said, “He was unfamiliar with how things worked, so I helped walk him through, and we developed a friendship. I did any little things I could help him with to help take something off his plate. I was just trying to be a good friend,” he said.
This fall, when Chaudhari rented a loader to unload the new furniture, Peters assisted.
“Some people would have thrown up their hands and walked away after the flood, but he was all in,” Peters said. “He’s a worker. He kept things moving. He knew how much insurance money he had, and he made it work. He’s a very honest individual. It’s been fun working with him.”
Rooms at the Western Inn South have new furnishings, new bathrooms and new air conditioners. New laminated floors have replaced the ruined carpet. Walls are newly painted.
“Now the motel is very nice, like brand new,” Chaudhari said. “I feel so positive. It was a terrible time, but city people, the bank, insurance representatives and so many more showed me that Kearney people are very good. Really good.”
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