IOWA CITY, Iowa (BP)–The picturesque Iowa River breached barriers in Iowa City June 20, swelling toward businesses and residences and leaving untold damage and frustrated homeowners in its wake.
Despite community-wide efforts to contain the waters through sandbagging, the river and its tributaries spread into quiet communities along the river’s flood plain. An eerie silence fell over Iowa City — a silence broken only by the sound of homeowners sloshing through knee-deep water to salvage precious belongings.
Iowa City officials have evacuated homes and shut off water, electricity and gas in many areas. Along Riverside Drive — a main city thoroughfare — sandbags, plastic and debris surrounded businesses and restaurants, many of which opened their doors only to allow pent-up moisture to escape their establishments.
Mud-out, recovery and feeding teams staffed by a Southern Baptist disaster relief team from Alabama joined the American Red Cross late last week, a welcome sight for water-weary homeowners.
As a mud-out team hefted furniture toward the street, residents of Normandy Drive — many of whom survived the floods of 1993 untouched — towed canoes and kayaks full of valuables.
The presence of Southern Baptist “yellow shirts” made a noticeable impact on local residents.
Outside the home of Casey Mahon, a water-damaged copy of “The Little Prince” rested on a glass table. She’d been able to salvage most of her books. Furniture and the like were another story.
Along the interior walls, water had left a tell-tale yellow mark as high as three feet in places. The hardwood floors had curled. Couches were stacked on couches. The master bedroom was a soggy wreck.
The Iowa River cut a new channel through Mahon’s side yard and into the neighborhood, beyond the three-foot sandbag wall neighbors and volunteers had built. The river created a small lake, burying her yard.
“I need to get on your list,” Mahon told Alabama disaster relief “blue hat” Ken Gibson, looking out toward bowed trees and the swift Iowa River.
Upstream, on the Mississippi River and its branches, floodwaters have produced even greater damage, turning farmland into heavily polluted lakes. Whole neighborhoods are accessible only by boat.
“We’re hoping for a tornado to come finish us off,” said one resident wryly as he sloshed around in waders. He said he had lost faith that his insurance would make any dent in cleanup and repair costs.
With water expected to crest in Missouri on June 24, Missouri Baptist disaster relief units hold steady in Iowa as their own state braces for the floodwaters.
“I’m leaving here today to go home and get ready for whatever’s coming at home,” said Sandy Fortner, who acted as “blue cap” for a feeding unit in Reedsburg.
Plans are already in the works for rebuild efforts along the Mississippi that will be similar in scope to monumental efforts along the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes.
Disaster relief coordinators hope for a much-needed upswing in volunteer numbers. Because of the past couple of years have been unusually busy for disaster relief, many units find themselves stretched to meet the demand.
Adam Miller is associate editor of the North American Mission Board’s On Mission magazine (www.onmission.com). Individuals and churches interested in helping with relief efforts in Iowa may contact the Baptist Convention of Iowa office at (515) 278-1566 or 2400 86th St., Suite 27, Des Moines IA 50322 (mark checks for the attention of: Disaster Relief — Iowa flood”). Donations for disaster relief also may be made at www.bcisbc.com and www.namb.net (the latter by clicking on “Give Now”).