Friday, June 13th, 2008
is a day I'll never forget. The Cedar River crested here, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at around 7am at over 31 feet above flood stage. Thousands of homes and businesses were already under water, which had been rising at a rate of 2 inches per hour over the past 24 hours. In the days prior, the city kept increasing the mandatory evacuation areas, spreading farther and farther out from the river because the water kept rising and no one really knew how high it was going to get.
Thousands of homes and hundreds of downtown businesses were destroyed.
A year later, a lot of people are still not settled back into homes. Many are still living in FEMA trailers and some still living with friends or relatives. Still others moved away after losing everything, to start new. For months after the flooding the post office had temporary mailboxes set up in a few locations around the city so the people whose homes were destroyed could still get their mail. Many of the people getting mail at these temp locations never picked up any mail. It was just assumed that they had moved away. No one really knows where, they just disappeared.
A few days prior to the river cresting, I and many others were sent home from work because one by one, the roads in and out of Cedar Rapids were being closed to all traffic due to the water. I remember driving home that afternoon around 2 pm and thinking, "it can't get much worse than this because if it does, there will be no way to get in or out of town". Well, it did get much worse. Just hours after I went home that day, this is what the highway that I drove home on looked like:
This is normally dry land, no river, no bridge, just dry land. When I took this road home the water was lapping at the sides of the road. It was like driving across an island. Little did I know it would end up this deep!
By the morning of June 13th the only road still open was Interstate 380 which runs north and south through the middle of Cedar Rapids and it was only open to the north. Southbound was closed.
This photo is of Mays Island which is an island in the river where our city hall, county courthouse and county jail are located. You can barely see the tops of the railings on the 3 bridges that cross the island. In the distance you can see the I-380 bridge, the only bridge that remained open during the flooding. This is the only way you could get from one side of Cedar Rapids to the other for several days. If that bridge had closed, it would have meant about a 2 hour drive to get from the north side of Cedar Rapids to the south side.
A few shots of downtown during the worst:
This one was taken from one of the many skywalks that connect buildings downtown. This is actually 4 blocks from where the river usually runs:
Among the casualties was a railroad bridge that had been standing for about 100 years. Here are before and after shots of that bridge:
The power of the rushing water was unbelievable. They had loaded the bridge with rail cars containing sand and rock in an effort to keep it in place. Even the immense weight didn't save the bridge from being taken out by the power of the water. Imagine what it did to many of the homes that sat along the river. Even a year later there are still neighborhoods where homes are moved completely off their foundations and garages are smashed up against houses.
Another example of how powerful the rushing water was:
A mile or so up river from the downtown area is a marina where people had boathouses docked. The high water broke many of them free and they floated downstream until they got caught on another railroad bridge just north of downtown. Since the flood last year, the city has banned any new boathouses on the river and has given owners a deadline to have them taken off the river. As you might imagine, this was not a very popular decision to the owners who have spent thousands of dollars and put in many hours of hard work into these.
The good news:
Today, being the one year anniversary of this disaster, there are several celebrations taking place in Cedar Rapids and other surrounding communities that were also effected by the flooding. Some people are slowly able to get back into their homes if they were lucky enough for FEMA to deem them safe to go back into. Thousands of homes were coded unsafe and will have to be torn down. Most of those homes still sit, but progress is beginning to be made.
At this point 80% of the businesses are back open downtown and many others are still working on their buildings preparing to reopen.
Some businesses have relocated to other parts of the city.
One success story is our favorite restaurant downtown called Zins. It had been open less than a year before they were forced to evacuate two days before the river reached it's crest. The flood waters, then destroyed everything inside the historic red brick building they were in.
I heard yesterday, that Zins opened back up on Thursday at 4:15pm. One year to the exact minute that they closed and sandbagged their doors in hopes of keeping the flood waters out. I can't wait to go back and show our support.
At the risk of sounding overly sentimental and mushy, even a year later my eyes still well up when I see videos and pictures of the devastation that the flood caused. I grew up in this city and know it very well and remember so many places that simply don't exist anymore.
It still boggles my mind to imagine how many people were effected by this disaster. In September Andrew and I moved into our new condo while others were still being built around us. As we meet new neighbors, we're finding that a lot of the people who live around us now, lost everything in the flood and these units were being built at just the right time for them. They are the lucky ones who were able to afford to move to a new place. Many people weren't as fortunate and are still in FEMA trailers or living with friends or relatives. But people are slowly getting back on their feet and Cedar Rapids is coming back. It will still be a long time before the reminders of the devastation can no longer be seen, but little by little, improvements are being made.
Here are a few more before and afters to show how far we've come: