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Palo woman honors “angels” who helped her rebuild

Sandy Wood’s home in Palo was flooded in 2008. The water was three feet deep on the first floor. Above is a picture of her, in her remodeled living room, with two objects of special significance for her.

The board with all the names on it is a piece that she asked every volunteer who worked at her house to sign. So there they are — all the names. The framed pictures are of Iowa State University students working on her home. One of the students made the frame for her.

She gave me a handwritten letter describing her experience since the flood, and though I couldn’t promise her I’d be able to get it in the newspaper, I can certainly reproduce it here:

June 2008 was to be a happy month, as our daughter Amanda got married June 7, 2008. Within a few days, the happy times were gone, as our home had been flooded. We lost everything, including her wedding cake and gifts. We ended up with three feet on the main floor and five feet in the garage. Our house was tagged on June 17. We found it was tagged yellow (meaning it could be moved back into). I was so happy that after having long hair for two years I went to get it cut off.

When we finally got to go see our home June 20 my happiness went into tears as everything was destroyed, even our beautiful pond. As we went into the house, the carpet was full of mud and things that belonged in one room were now in another.

Now, came the time to start throwing everything out. As me and my husband stood in the living room, we did not know where to start. We had wonderful friends from the Marion Gospel Church and all over show up to help throw out 29 years of our life. Most of it didn’t bother me, but when it came to seeing our children’s finger paintings and all the Mother’s and Father’s Day cards being thrown away, that’s when I really broke down. Our children are 35, 29, and 26.

We had no idea how we were going to be able to afford to rebuild with the money we received from FEMA and Jumpstart. Then came Eight Days of Hope as we were told as long as we had supplies they would come and help. They hung all our sheetrock, put in all the subfloors, rebuilt walls.

Then came students that were studying to be attorneys. They hung four interior doors and two pocket doors.

Then came Iowa State students (which I called our kids). We had five guys and one girl for three days. They put in front and back doors, two basement windows, the kitchen floor, one bedroom floor, two vanities and medicine chests. They hung all the kitchen cupboards.

Then came the sweetest 80 year old man and Teddy Bear and Grant who came out and built steps and put up hand rails.

We had so many people from everywhere in the world, and each one that worked on our home signed my 2×10 board four feet long, and I can tell you it is full.

Then came retired plumbers. One day we had eight. Next day we had three. We still need some more done. Marion Gospel Church made a beautiful Pepsi lamp for my husband as he is one big Pepsi fan. My Iowa State students made me a beautiful cross with pictures of them working on our house. There has been Peace Church, who brought us things and did yard work.

Each one are true angels that God has sent to us. We will never forget any of you, and we hope you come for a visit to see how nice our home looks thanks to you all.

God Bless,
Jerry and Sandy Wood
(If we have missed anyone, we sure didn’t mean to.)


Filed under: Flood, , , , , , ,

2008: Sandbaggers take initiative

More memories from the flood:

My mother and I, along with some friends responded to the call. We initially head to Edgewood Road, to assist with the well, but were turned away. We were told to go to Mercy Hospital and got there as soon as we could. We parked on the Northern Side of the hospital and walked around to the intersection of 8th Avenue and 10th Street SE. We quickly realized that no one in particular was in charge, but instead, it was find someone who at least knew what to do. After a while, they said that they were moving to another location. My mother got on the back of a pickup and took off. I assumed that I would get on the next one, and go to the same location. It didn’t pan out that way. Instead she went down near the Qwest building and I ended up back on the Northern side of the hospital. We got a pile of sand there and began filling sandbags and sending them down an assembly line into the bottom of the hospital. At some point, people came out of the bottom of the hospital, and some others (including myself) went in. I remember standing in the bottom floors of the hospital in about 1/2 inch of water and getting handed sandbags and sending them down the line.

I think the part that sticks out to me, was how the community rose up against everything, to help save itself. Also, how we didn’t wait for anyone to tell us what to do. Instead, we learned from each other and then passed that on to the next person who needed it.

Mark Fuller
Cedar Rapids, IA

Filed under: Flood, , , , , ,

2008: Close shave for SanDee Skelton

6 a.m. Thurs., June 12 —- SanDee Skelton woke up at her daughter’s home, and drove to her house to gather a few more things before the water closed in.

“When I got to a block from my house, there was like an inch of water on the street,” Skelton said. But the water was rising rapidly, she said, and when she tried to turn her car around, it stalled. She called 911.

“The current was so hard, and I could feel the car rocking back and forth,” she said.

She managed to get to the passenger window while water flowed onto her feet. The dispatcher told her firefighters were on their way.

“I just went into a total relax mode,” said Skelton. “I said, ‘OK, I’m in God’s hands.’”

She called her niece and told her to tell everyone she loved them. Her niece told her to try to get out of the car.

“Put the cellphone in your bra, and give me a play-by-play as you try to get out,” Skelton remembers her saying.

Sklelton slid over to the passenger seat, and tried to climb out the window.

“My leg kept floating back, because the current was so hard,” Skelton said.

That’s when the she heard the sirens. Firefighters brought a raft down to her, and took her up to dry land. When she looked back, she said, her car was nearly submerged.

“I could just see the beige colored top, like it was a sidewalk or something,” she said.

Filed under: Flood, , , , , , ,

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.

Filed under: Flood, , , , ,

2008: I Am Legend on Sixth Street

I’ll be posting people’s memories of the flood over the next couple weeks. If you remember specific scenes or feelings from the flood, e-mail me:

Memories of that Thursday are somewhat sketchy. In my mind, all 3 days really blend together. Memories of the news coverage, sights of the orange cones that kept moving out over the course of the day, Bruce Aune loosening his tie, Ashley Hinson admitting to her lack of shower by putting her hair up in a headband. Driving through flooded neighborhoods is an everyday thing. We see the aftermath. It’s EVERY DAY! What’s not are the little memories such as those that I mentioned. I remember timing my sump pump just right so that we could actually flush the toilet. I remember taking my wife and daughter over the river for the first time just so they could see the reality of the events with their own eyes rather than through the lens of a camera. I remember the 1st Ave. Dairy Queen sign and the small drive through sign below that showed the true severity of the situation.

One of my most vivid memories, though, is that Wednesday. I was on my way down 6th SW street toward first avenue. During lunch that day, I had been to the venue that my youth outreach group (Central Corridor Gamers) calls home, Trinity United Methodist Church. There was an army of people moving things from the basement of the fellowship hall to the upper level. I really had no idea why they were making such drastic moves. We figured a little water on the carpet. I decided to come back again after work to move some of the stuff that our group uses during our regular meetings (which were supposed to happen that evening). All along 6th street, people who had just evacuated their homes were strolling. It was just like a scene from War of the Worlds, or I Am Legend. People lining both sides of the street with pet carriers, children in their arms, depressed and concerned looks on their faces, all moving in the same direction—away from the water. This was the first time that reality set into my mind. It was clear that CCG would not be meeting that night. It was clear that things were bad.

I hope you don’t mind me side-stepping the “I-380 that Thursday” instruction. I was just thinking about my memories this weekend with some family and these were the things that came to my mind.

Dan Alpers
Founder and President
Central Corridor Gamers

Filed under: Flood, , , , ,

2008: the woman in the bus

The city bus idled just off First Avenue West, 10 blocks from the Cedar River, less than a block from the edge of the water.

Mary Lou Conlan was the lone passenger. She sat with her hands folded. Sunlight streamed into the dark bus through the window behind her and the air conditioner hummed as voices called back and forth outside.

Moments earlier, Conlan had been rescued from her house at 420 Sixth St. SW, where she’d been marooned upstairs for 24 hours. A red boat had floated up to her home. She stepped in, the boat floated the eight blocks back to dry land, and firefighters carried her to the pavement. But she was not frantic, or desperate looking. She was neatly dressed. She carried a purse, and she awaited the arrival of her daughter, who remained at the house until firefighters could return for her.

Stretched out before Conlan was a stunning scene. First Avenue, the lifeline of urban Cedar Rapids, was covered in water from 10th Street SW to Fourth Street SE. Firefighters and Coast Guard officers chugged down the avenue on rescue boats in a continuous cycle. Their boats kicked south in the brisk currents shooting down Sixth and Fifth Streets, and they wouldn’t go much closer to the river than that. It was as if the heart of the city were a lake, strangely populated with buildings. Interstate 380 ribboned over the astonishing panorama, conveying a slow cargo of traffic in the bright, sunny distance.

Conlan looked down at her hands.

“It makes me sick,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “Here I am, retired. I lost everything.”

Filed under: Flood, , , ,

Looking back at June 2008: the scene at Mercy

Volunteers carry sanbags to protect Mercy Medical Center just after midnight on June 13, 2008. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Volunteers carry sanbags to protect Mercy Medical Center just after midnight on June 13, 2008.

The one-year anniversary of the flood is about three weeks away, and I’m working on a story that will give a blow-by-blow account of some of the key events of the flood. One of those is the evacuation of Mercy Medical Center. Hopefully I’ll post a few more of these before I have to turn this story in, which is Tuesday.

Here’s what I’ve got on Mercy so far. Thanks to Karen Vander Sanden, Chad Ware and Bob Olberding for talking to me. As usual, would appreciate your ideas/criticisms:

1300 hours, Thurs., June 12 —- Doctors and administrators at Mercy Medical Center were planning for an influx of patients. They figured the swollen Cedar River would force officials to shut down the Virginia Gay Hospital in Vinton, and that some nursing homes along the river would have to be evacuated.

But as Thursday dragged on, water crept up Eighth Avenue and started pooling under the canopy outside the hospital’s emergency room.

“A lot of the water started coming up through storm drains around the building as it was coming up Eighth Avenue,” said Chad Ware, a former program coordinator who was promoted to emergency management coordinator after the flood. “Mid-afternoon, water started coming out of the toilets.”

That’s when workers started laying sandbags around the glass wall of the hospital’s entrance and running from bathroom to bathroom, ripping toilets and sinks out and plugging the holes with towels, sandbags, inflatable rubber bladders.

The staff at Mercy fell into the work with a cool-headedness and seriousness that still impresses Ware. The man in charge of stopping the water was Bob Olberding, the hospital’s director of plant operations. He’s worked at the hospital for 37 years and sometimes refers to it as “my hospital.”

He didn’t leave the hospital for four days during the flood, and fought his hardest to preserve the building’s electrical switch gear in the basement.

“We were running around like chickens down there,” he said. “Emotionally, it was a pretty difficult situation.”

Some 25 pumps were running, including eight in the basement, but Olberding didn’t trust the glass wall at the hospital’s entrance, and water was getting closer to the concrete pads where the electrical gear rested.

About 9 p.m., the evacuation was ordered. The hospital was already on backup power, but if water reached the switchgear, patients would have been stranded on the upper floors of the hospital in the dark.

About 2 a.m., Tim Charles, the CEO of Mercy, walked up to Ware, who was helping coordinate the evacuation.

“Chad, we have a problem,” Ware remembers Charles saying. “We may lose the elevators within the hour.”
The evacuation had begun on the ninth floor, where the most serious patients were staying. The first priority became moving everyone to the ground floor before the elevators went down.

Patients were lined up near an east entrance to the hospital. Ambulances, humvees and city buses waited outside for them. Patients in good health were rolled to buses in wheelchairs, some carrying vases of flowers.

“I walked outside and I remember seeing the line of ambulances…and the lake of water, and it just hit me,” Ware said. “It was scary. It really was.”

The army of volunteers that had saved the pumphouse on Edgewood Road (and thus the city’s water supply) rushed over to Mercy in a throng, and bolstered the sandbag walls around the glass walls. Even when firefighters told them to get out of the water, they stood their ground.

“To see people doing that stuff, it was absolutely incredible,” Olberding said.

By 8 a.m. Friday, 183 patients, including very sick newborns, had been transferred to St. Luke’s Hospital and other medical facilities around Iowa — as far away as Des Moines or Guttenberg.

After a short meeting, most of the staff was sent home. Ware, who lives in Walker, headed out.

“I remember getting in the car and driving home, and by the time you get to Blairs Ferry Road, it was very surreal. It was business as usual,” he said. “You felt like you went from one world to another.”

That evening, his friends called him to play softball in the men’s league that plays at the field below the town’s grain elevator. It was a lovely night.

“Well, all right,” he said.

Olberding, who lives in Dyersville, didn’t go home for ten days.

Photo by Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette.

Filed under: Flood, , , , ,

What? Yep, flooding in C.R.

This is a city press release:

Starting at 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, Otis Rd. SE from the Cargill plant to the old sand pit area is closed due to flooding on the Cedar River. With current projections, the road will reopen on Friday, May 1. Memorial DR SE from McCarthy RD SE to Forest Ridge CT SE will be open for local and emergency access during this time period as a gravel road. Memorial DR was closed for a sanitary sewer extension which is complete except for the paving.

Fish CT SW off of Old River Road is closed due to flooding. Also, there is limited access to Robins Lake and Manhattan Park located along Ellis Blvd NW.

For a complete list of road closures please check web site under “Current Street Closures.”

Filed under: Flood, , ,

Broken glass in the flood zone

Got a story coming out about it in Saturday’s paper. A group is meeting at the Oakhill/Jackson community garden at 9 a.m. to sweep through that neighborhood and clean up glass.

Here’s a quick video outlining the problem:

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, Flood

Nice video of Recorder’s Office moving

Here’s the video, by Gazette photographer Jim Slosiarek:

Here’s the news story: Linn County departments have begun moving their offices from around Westdale Mall to Linn County West, at the old Steve & Barry’s store on the east side of the mall.

The first department to move is the Recorder’s Office, which is moving its computers and desks with the help of volunteers from Kirkwood Community College. The Recorder’s Office has been on the second level of Westdale since the flood, next door to J.C. Penney.

“We’ll be moving the big books on Saturday,” Linn County Recorder Joan McCalmant said.

The Treasurer’s Office, Auditor’s Office, Planning and Development, Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities, Veteran Affairs Office and other departments will all move over by month’s end.

Sheriff Brian Gardner expects to bring inmates back to the Linn County Jail this month, but said some of the contractors working at the jail are lagging a little bit.

The Board of Supervisors, which is located in the downtown Palmer Building, will move to Linn County West by the end of June, as will Finance and Budget, Human Resources, Risk Management, juvenile probation offices, Clerk of Courts and court functions for Juvenile, Small Claims and Traffic Courts.

County offices and court functions will remain at this temporary Linn County West location until permanent facilities are complete.

Filed under: County Government, Flood, , , , , ,

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