My sister and two nephews live in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, area (Marion, Hiawatha, respectively) in northeast Iowa, and I grew up 38 miles north of Cedar Rapids. The Cedar River has overflowed its banks, leaving 400 downtown city blocks underwater, 3,000 people living in homeless shelters, and only 1 (of 4) water towers with drinking water for the city still usable. The lone remaining water source was saved due to the late-night heroic efforts of local citizens.
One of those local citizens was nephew Chris Castelein, who received a call at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday night (June 12th) from Mike Duffy, who is an official responsible for sub-roads in the Cedar Rapids area. He told my nephew that all 12 of his men were sandbagging around the final remaining operative water tower (of 4) and that he needed as many able-bodied individuals as could be gathered to rally to help save this final water source for the city of 100,000 in the northeast portion of the state.
Chris and his wife, DJ, report that, once KCRG television station began broadcasting a call for help, literally hundreds of citizens streamed to the site and were able to sandbag around the water tower to “save” the drinking water for Hiawatha and Robbins in the northeast suburbs of the city. However, they have only enough water for drinking purposes, at the moment.
Chris had just spent a fruitless night helping his father, Ed, attempt to save his house near Ellis Park. He and brother John wet-vacuumed his father’s house near the river all night, but rising waters from the torrential rains finally claimed the entire house, even though it stands on a hill. Ed was one of many Cedar Rapids residents forced to abandon his home as the floodwaters advanced. Damage estimates are topping $737 million and 83 (of 99) Iowa counties have been declared disaster areas.
I was driving home from Chicago on Interstate 80 from 9:30 p.m.until 1:00 a.m. when torrential rains and high winds blew a truck heading east towards Chicago from the highway (Interstate 80) near midnight and left a tree downed in the far right west-bound lane, approximately one hour away from our destination of the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities (Bettendorf, Davenport in Iowa and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois).
We had to swerve to avoid the tree.
The lightning lit up the night like daylight. Sheets of rain covered the highway by 2 to 3 inches to the point that it was necessary to slow to 30 mph and watch for the centerline white markers in order to be able to see the highway at all. It reminded me of sand blowing in the desert. The spray from cars traveling to the east (Chicago) flew up at least 8 feet, illuminated by oncoming car headlights. The four large semi-trailer trucks I was following all were driving with their blinker lights on, and none was going faster than 37 mph. I was also concerned about the height of the water on the highway, as I was driving a hybrid Prius. (Would my car “short out” if the water reached the electric motor?) It was a white-knuckle drive, for sure. The temperature had quickly dropped by at least 20 degrees from when we left Chicago, late, and headed out on the highway.
When we reached the outskirts of the Quad Cities, we learned that Interstate 80 had been closed from Tipton’s Exit 267 on to the west. My college roommate, who had spent the week with me in Chicago, but had planned to drive another 3 hours to Des Moines that evening, spent the night here, instead. She had to drive an extra 110 miles to get home, as Interstate 80 traffic was routed up 61 to Dubuque, Iowa, then over on Highway 20 (which goes past my former hometown of Independence, Iowa) and down to Des Moines on 35. Her trip began today at 9:30 a.m. She did not reach Des Moines (from the Quad Cities) until 4:30 p.m. This drive usually takes 3 and ½ hours, but took between 5 and 6 hours today, Friday the 13th.
The Cedar River crested Wednesday (June10) in Waterloo, Iowa, at 25.39 feet (June 13, 2008, Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa.) Flood stage is 12 feet. The Cedar River in Cedar Rapids was expected to crest at 24.5 feet. Bridges have been washed out. My nephew’s wife, Dona Jane, told me that Quaker Oats and General Mills, which have plants near the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids employing in excess of 500 people, have been inundated. Questions abound as to whether they will rebuild.
Mercy Hospital downtown had to be evacuated. Prisoners from the jail on the island were being taken out in buses. At least 3,000 people were driven out of their homes and into homeless shelters. I’ve lived in the area for six decades and I have never seen a flood in the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) area that rivals this one. I’ve also never driven through a downpour like last night’s, which seemed to have “fingers” of rain, interspersed with relatively dry areas, and some marble-sized hail.
Ironically, here in the Quad Cities on the Mississippi, the flood does not seem to be as bad as ‘ 93, but it is much worse along the Cedar and Iowa Rivers, which are tributaries of the Mississippi.
The Iowa River, right now, is threatening the University of Iowa Hospital complex, as well as the University of Iowa Union building and other student buildings on campus at the University of Iowa. Forecasters say the Iowa River could top 30 feet; flood stage there is 22 feet. As for the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, it was predicted to crest today (Friday) at 24.5 feet. In the Iowa City (Iowa) area (and it is now impossible to drive the one-half hour drive on I-380 between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids), water began flowing over the spillway at Coralville Reservoir about 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 10th, only the second time in the dam’s 50-year history that this has occurred, according to John Castle, operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Traffic in the state of Iowa is severely hampered, especially with the closing of I-80, the major East-West thoroughfare for the nation. Truckers, already paying over $4 for gas, have to add an extra 100 miles to their routes to drive around the flooded and closed Interstate.
My nephew, an amateur photographer, has been sending his flood photos to KCRG, but I hope to receive one to post that has not already been used by that Cedar Rapids television station whenever he gets a chance to rest from sandbagging. It could be a while.