I received this vivid and emotional email from my very good friend, Dave Phares. Dave and I grew up together in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Dave is now a pastor in Monticello, IA. My mom and step dad also live in Cedar Rapids-they are outside of the flood area. Thank you Dave for sending this out.
I was in downtown Cedar Rapids again yesterday. I’ve never seen anything like it in Iowa before. The other day I was talking to my wife about floods and I mentioned to her that I’m an Iowan, and this means I’m used to flooding and tornados every spring. But this is unreal. A town to the north was destroyed by a tornado. I heard it was a half-mile wide tornado. I didn’t believe the person at first, because we don’t have EF5’s in Iowa. We get little tornados that take a roof or two, and uproot a few trees here and there. Occasionally we’ll lose a couple of buildings. The half-mile wide variety tornados are pretty much reserved for Texas and Oklahoma. But sure enough, it was measured as an EF5. The strongest tornado in Iowa in over 30 years. Now the flood. A couple of weeks ago they were saying we might equal 1993. Then we heard that this might exceed 93 by two feet. Then, when it was supposed to crest on Wednesday at 24 feet (2 above 93) we got a storm (the same system that produced the tornado that killed the scouts, an EF3 they say). That storm hit the brakes over central to eastern Iowa and dumped on us for several hours. All of a sudden we were around 10 feet over the 93 level. All this is to say that things are strange this year.
Back to Cedar Rapids, for those of you who know the town, the water went from 10th street between Mercy Hospital and McKinley Middle School (my Junior High!) to the east, and to the foot of the hill that Kingston Stadium/Vets Memorial stadium sit on to the West. It took my parents house and went about 8 or 9 feet from the ground level. My sister’s house is dry, but she lives only about a half mile from the western edge of the flooding. This flood took out thousands of residences. The smell of the city reminds me of wet cats and dogs who’ve decided to take a roll in their own feces. The A&W on Ellis had sludge all around it, and sadly it had the worst smell I’ve encountered so far. You know it was sewage. Downtown is completely dark except where work crews have lights running via generators. Downtown is likely to be dead for a while. There is talk of the city and county government offices moving into Westdale mall. The city busses are taking up residence at Kingston stadium, the central police station has moved…everything is different. There is no lighted traffic control at all down there. Stop signs have been put up everywhere, and it takes considerably longer to get around. Red cross trucks are all over driving 10 miles an hour, passing out water to anyone who needs it. On Friday the whole town was at work cleaning out the ruined stuff in their houses. Almost everything the flood touched gets tossed. If you’ve ever been into the “bad” neighborhoods in any big city, you know what it looks like when someone’s been evicted: all their stuff sits on the street corner. Imagine that, but with a pile in front of every single building. Even the high rise buildings downtown.
I got to see my parents house on Friday. This isn’t the house we grew up in. It’s the place my parents bought two years ago; small but nice. There’s mold already growing on the kitchen cabinets. Every conceivable peice of wood is warped…the doors, the floors…everything. The carpet that was once a light grey is now dark brown. The whole thing has to be gutted. And that is the story for everyone in their neighborhood, and for everyone in around 4000 houses. Then there’s Iowa City, Waterloo, etc…everyone’s been hit.
But you know what is cool. On Friday I saw the whole town out working. Not a few industrious people, but the whole town. Think of the man hours it took to make those piles in front of the houses. On Friday afternoon there were thousands of people in every neighborhood cleaning up and patching things together. I love being an Iowan. I love being a midwesterner. We may be considered fly over country by those on the coasts, but in the hearts of these people is the same rugged determination that defined the early pioneers. No complaining that the government should do more. No whining about “why me?” Just elbow grease and determination. There ain’t no way the people are going to give up, they’re up for the fight. It was good to see.
Derin Says: I just want to add that many folks who bought new houses in the past 10 years were told that they were way outside of the flood plain and they were not even given the opportunity to buy flood insurance-and now their houses are underwater. FEMA may be able to help some folks. I remember the flood of 93 pretty vividly. Water would pour in over engines and ruin them. People were replacing hot water heaters multiple times. Cattle and other farm animals died. Crops were ruined. My car got stuck in a foot of water (my stupidity to try to drive through it). Branches and trees were down daily. All kinds of flood water and none safe to drink. And on and on. It seemed to never quit raining. And this time it is much worse.