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2008: The Sunday after, strike teams in Time Check

7 a.m., Sun., June 15 —- The Iowa River crested at 31.5 feet in Iowa City that day, and UI President Sally Mason announced the Hancher Auditorium was likely flooded up to the concert stage.

Strike teams assembled in Cedar Rapids, where the water was already back down to 25 feet, to go through the flooded neighborhoods and determine which homes were safe to return to, which were not.

Cedar Rapids firefighter Corey Archer was assigned to the Time Check neighborhood. “They called it Alpha sector,” he said.

The sun shone through the shade of the trees onto a neighborhood that was heavy with dampness and smeared with muck.

Hustling house to house, breaking through doors into wrecked living rooms and kitchens, it struck Archer as ironic that the only things inhabiting the streets were the occasional cat – and thousands of dead nightcrawlers.

“Those were beautiful summer days, and nobody’s around,” Archer said.

He saw boats wedged onto front porches, Yardy carts hanging on stop signs, garages relocated down streets.

“We would literally find logs three feet in diameter shoved in windows,” he said.

What he’ll never forget, what all of Cedar Rapids may not forget for decades, was the smell. The smell of dead worms, broken refrigerators, wet pet food and especially the who-knows-what of the muck that cooked on the ground as a warm spell followed the previous week’s torrential rain into Eastern Iowa.

Many of those on the strike teams simply threw away their clothes afterward.

Archer said one scene caused him and his colleagues to stop and watch. It was a pile of fish, some living, some dead, fighting for water in a small pool above a storm drain partially blocked by a sheet of plywood.

Three days before, the water had been ten feet deep. Now it was a diminishing puddle at the end of J Avenue NW. Bigger fish were jockeying for space and smaller fish were piled up dead around the perimeter.

“All these fish are in there, swimming and fighting and rotting,” he said.

Eventually someone pulled up the plywood, and the remaining water and fish dropped into the storm drain.
The survivors, Archer assumes, swam back to the river.


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