|In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Water Off Their Backs? (USA Today, July 7, 2008)|
By Judy Keen, USA TODAY
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — At first, Kim Knoke thought she was lucky. Her house was badly damaged in last month's flooding, but she was relieved to learn, when the water receded, that it's sound enough to be repaired.
Almost a month after the Cedar River submerged 1,000 blocks and forced 25,000 of this city's 124,000 people to leave their homes, though, Knoke says she's struggling.
Her family's belongings were lost because they saved the contents of her mother-in-law's home instead. Knoke, 29, her husband and their four children are crammed into a cousin's two-bedroom home. She spends her days gutting her house and lies awake worrying at night.
Now the City Council is considering a plan that would prohibit residents of 1,072 homes in a 100-year flood plain — including Knoke's — from rebuilding. And she has learned that fixing the house would cost more than its assessed value.
"I want my children to grow up in that house," she says, fighting back tears.
The aftermath of the June 12 flood is testing the resilience of many people here. The scope of the disaster, which left 7,198 flood-struck properties, including 5,390 houses, 30 churches, 27 government buildings, eight cultural sites and 1,322 businesses, is still unfolding as they tally the losses, contemplate the cost of rebuilding and battle stress.
Flooded communities in six Midwestern states — Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin — face similar challenges. As of this past week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved more than $181 million for housing assistance and other disaster-related needs for residents of all of those states except Minnesota. Nearly 65,000 people in those states have signed up for FEMA aid.
"Every day, more people realize how long it will take to recover," says Dennis Wheeler, director of a food pantry at St. Pius X Catholic Church that has expanded its size and days of operation to help flood victims.
Two dozen FEMA mobile homes arrived here last week. City spokeswoman Cassie Willis said 117 people remained in shelters; thousands more are living with friends or relatives.
The city's commercial center is beginning to get electrical power back, although it has been unreliable, state Rep. Tyler Olson of Cedar Rapids, a Democrat, said last week. Most of the wells that provide water were disabled, but 75% of water capacity is back.
"This is like a 2,500-year event," Olson said. "I truly believe Cedar Rapids history will always be discussed pre- and post-2008 flood."
Recovering by trickles
Affected neighborhoods here still look like battlefields. A wrecked railroad bridge lies in the river. Heaps of refuse are piled on curbs, with separate piles for trash, wood and metal. The city hauled away 40,436 tons in just the first week of recovery. At mealtimes, Salvation Army and Red Cross trucks move slowly along, dispensing meals in plastic foam boxes to residents and volunteers.
Pat Florang, 82, left the house she's lived in since 1959 as floodwaters neared. She thought there might be some water in the basement when she returned, but it was totally flooded and water rose to almost 3 feet on the ground floor. She's removing pieces of a wall on which she painted murals of Disney characters decades ago.
Her antique organ was ruined. So was her truck. "It's all gone away," Florang says. At first, she was determined to stay and rebuild, but now she's not so sure. "I think I'm out," she says. "The amount of money it's going to take to fix it, well, I just don't know. … I need Oprah."
Evelyn Powers, 73, faces the same difficult decision. She and her husband, Ronald, 63, fled the home they had lived in for 41 years with a change of clothes, their cat and its litter box. They got $14,800 from FEMA, but a furnace costs $7,000. "I don't know how we'd pay for a new water heater and all new wiring," she says. There was more bad news the last time she stopped by: Water pipes had burst.
'We're going to be fine'
Michael Richards and his wife, Lynette, both 58, have plenty of reasons to be depressed. The flood destroyed everything in the 1893 brick building that housed their wax-making business and the house next-door where their son, Michael, lived. They moved out of their apartment above the business because of the musty odor and mold. Their son's house will be among the first demolished.
They're already thinking, though, about the future of the neighborhood known as New Bohemia. Historic brick buildings will be saved, Michael Richards says, and will be in a parklike setting after wood homes and businesses are torn down. "We're going to be fine," says Lynette, a high-school guidance counselor. "You just have to believe that you're going to get through it."
Knoke hasn't lost her spirit, either. "I won't let this get me down," she says. "I'm too tough."
Contributing: Alan Gomez in McLean, Va., and TheDes Moines Register
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