In its life span, the fridge had been through a fire and a flood, but from far away it didn’t look so bad. Just a small black box, lying in the middle of a wet and muddy Nebraska field.
It struck Gayland Stouffer as unusual. Stouffer wondered how it got there, as he later told the Lincoln Journal Star. Days prior, the field had been underwater, drowning in the unprecedented floodwaters unleashed on Platte River valley last week. Stouffer and his friend, Kyle Simpson, had been trudging along through the muck and the standing water in their boots and waders Sunday, walking a mile back to their car after a long day spent clearing debris and mud from Simpson’s property along the river.
Stouffer was tired but curious. He plodded over to the small black box and untangled it from a web of thorny brush. And then he realized, yelling out to Simpson, “Hey, it’s a refrigerator!” the Omaha World-Herald reported.
There was more: “And it’s full of beer!”
And yet, even more: “It’s ice cold!”
Simpson thought it was too good to be true. How many times had they wished for an ice cold beer as they slogged through the mud all day?
“Yeah, right,” Simpson yelled back.
But then he saw it too: the three fully stocked shelves of Busch Light and Bud Light. It was “a magic fridge!,” waiting for them like “a gift from the heavens” or a “pot of gold,” said fellow Nebraskans, who saw photos of the discovery in a viral Facebook post.
The spontaneous discovery was a moment of levity amid the devastation that has roiled the region following a treacherous “bomb cyclone” that dumped snow, ice and then relentless floods on communities all across the Midwest. The historic storm has caused at least four deaths, killed livestock, destroyed farms and livelihoods and inundated entire communities with icy, murky waters that have only just began receding, leaving farmers and property owners to assess the wreckage. In Nebraska, the state’s emergency agency estimated the floodwaters have left behind $1.3 billion in damages.
And so as Stouffer and Simpson sipped the cold beer from the homeless fridge Sunday, Simpson told the World-Herald, “We thought about the poor guy who lost it, and hoped he was okay.”
Some who saw the viral photos of Stouffer and Simpson had the same thought. “Did u lose a fridge?” some asked, tagging their friends whose beer of choice was Busch Light.
It was shared so many times until, finally, it caught the attention of the Healy family.
Right away, Brian Healy told the Washington Post on Wednesday night, the fridge looked familiar. The ratio of Busch to Bud was just right. His dad was the Bud Light drinker, the “oddball” of the family, while everyone else stuck to Busch Light.
And then, there were the scorched edges, the real giveaway. The mini fridge, Healy said, had survived a fire that burned down his parents’ house in 2007. The fridge smelled like smoke, and so his parents hauled it off to the family’s summer cabin along the river.
The cabin, Healy said, was destroyed in the flood.
“We lost our cabin,” Healy’s Aunt Judy, who owns the cabin along with her husband and Healy’s parents, commented on the Facebook photo. “Where did you find the fridge?”
It was four miles down river from their cabin, in Linwood, Neb., Healy soon learned. The family knew it had to be theirs.
On Tuesday, Healy received a call from Simpson, who had gotten his number from a mutual friend. Simpson asked to make sure everything was okay. His family was safe, Healy said, and so were their homes — everything but the cabin. And the fridge.
Simpson said he hoped Healy didn’t mind — they had drank a couple of beers.
“He said, ‘Well, when my road’s repaired, I’ll drop off your fridge,’ ” Healy said.
Healy and his Aunt Judy told the Washington Post said they were delighted that their castaway appliance had brought some laughs amid so much devastation. But they hoped the humor wouldn’t overshadow the dire needs facing their neighbors.
They knew people who had lost everything, they said. On farms, some cows were going hungry, Healy said, because all their feed was flooded, jeopardizing numerous farmers’ livelihoods. As the Post reported Wednesday, the $1.3 billion in damage includes an estimated $400 million in dead livestock, $440 million in lost grain and $439 million in damaged infrastructure.
“We just lost a refrigerator and a cabin,” Judy Healy said. “People need to help the families who are suffering.”