Born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa I am a community activist who is passionate about my city. My story is complex so I will try to keep it short and make my point. On June 11, 2008 the river forced my four children, and I out of our home at 1426 1st Street NW, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I really didn’t watch much television or even listen to the radio, but I tried to stay abreast on current events by staying involved and volunteering my time wherever I could.
My four kids and I went on a camping trip in NE Iowa in the beginning of June 2008 when the trout stream we were camping next to flooded into our tents. I remember telling them on the way home that if I never saw another port-a-potty again that it would be too soon! When we got home I pushed my teenage kids to help me get things moved to the upper level of my two-story four bedroom riverfront home so we would have less of a mess to clean up later.
We spent three days moving things from the first floor to the second floor and even put the appliances from the basement upstairs on the first floor on top of cinder blocks. I had a vase of flowers I had collected for ten years that I put on a stair that I was certain water would never touch but it did by one stair.
We took several trips across town trying to move vehicles to higher ground unfortunately, with all the site seers it was difficult to get to and from the house. By the time we were able to get to the last load Ellis Blvd was already about a foot under. We still lost my son’s car that had a full tank of gas in the garage during a time when gas skyrocketed to almost $5.00 a gallon.
I don’t want anyone to think we are naïve. It wasn’t like we didn’t know we were going to flood. Some people just didn’t want to believe it and did nothing while others went as far as bringing in moving trucks. I grew up by this river and I knew that we were going to flood. Time Check residents were lucky because in 1993, they only acquired basement flooding while my house on C Street SW was inundated.
The city wasn’t doing anything to keep the water from coming through the levee across the street. My three older children went on a sandbag hunt to put them over the spot on the levee that was seeping but the city came by later to take a bite of earth from the side of the levee to pile on top of it and then ‘packed’ it in. I was upset by this and thought they should have filled all of 1st Street with Dirt to save the area instead of just protecting everything from the railroad bridge to downtown. It was as if they sabotaged our levee on purpose because in another spot on the same levee the city had heavy equipment on it. I later learned that the city put a dirt barrier around Ellis Park but failed to protect any of the homes that sat on the East side of Ellis.
Initially the flood was surreal. Seeing the city underwater was more like a nightmare than reality. Because my house sat next to the river I paid close attention to what was taking place near Quaker Oats. Rumor had it there were houseboats slamming into houses knocking them off their foundations. My biggest fear was an uninsured houseboat was going to slam into my house knocking it off its foundation and damaging it beyond repair. We just moved into this house two years before the flood from another house just a block away. It was a beautiful home with an incredible view of the Red Cedar River from the master bedroom.
I spent hours doing whatever I could to try to get a look at my riverfront home. I snuck by some police to get to the top of a parking ramp with my binoculars to try to get a peek at my house but couldn’t see it. When I did finally find a spot in St Luke’s Hospital I saw the house from a window looking out from the 6th or 8th floor in an elevator lobby. I could see that there were two boat docks hanging from my house. In a way I looked at them as a blessing because they weren’t a houseboat and thought just maybe they would deter them from hitting the house.
It seemed like forever but when the water did finally crest it was crazier trying to get back home. Police check points armed with military people lined up and people were refused access to their homes. When FEMA finally called to do their first assessment on June 20, a Cedar Rapids police officer commanded we leave the restricted area even though we had a FEMA representative with us in our vehicle. When we turned around a different Cedar Rapids police officer told us we could go back. The only kind of attention residents received from our local officers was negative and I thought that it was sad because out-of-town officers were offering us food and water while our police sat in their cars staring.
We didn’t get to go home until June 21, 2008. I spent those ten days pacing the check points until I was able to go home. I spent time gathering cleaning supplies from Red Cross sites and standing in lines for help. Most of my family was impacted by this flood but they lived on the other side of Ellis and were able to go home much sooner than I was. When they finally got into their homes the damage was astonishing. I walked into my aunt’s house where her ceiling fans dangled like dead flowers. My Uncle Brian who lived down the street from my Aunt Bev walked around staggered. He didn’t even know where to begin. I looked in his kitchen and it was pure chaos. I remember sauntering from my Uncle Brian’s back yard through the backside of the A&W onto the cracked flood mud that settled on the parking lot. When I saw Chirps I started to cry. The smell, the sadness, the anguish replaced all of my good memories of the neighborhood replacing it with a stench you couldn’t explain.
On another front I volunteer on the Linn County Victim Advisory Committee with the Sixth Judicial Department of Correctional Services and serve as a liaison person for the VAC as a member of the Northern Advisory Committee for the DOC. I grew up in the Time Check area; an area hard hit by the 2008 floods. I serve as the Northwest Neighbor’s Associations Vice President. I sit on the Weed and Seed Steering Committee as a representative of the neighborhood. I am a student at Kirkwood Community College where I attend college as a full-time student. I have my AA in Criminal Justice and am working towards my bachelors degree and hope to transfer to Mount Mercy College this year.