Cedar Rapids bonding as flooding looms

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Cedar Rapids has girded for some of the worst flooding in its history, bringing back memories of 2008.

By Naomi Hofferber

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Friday nights usually mean a lively Czech Village and New Bohemia, located next to the Cedar River — but on Sept. 23, they were ghost towns.

Thick white sandbags encircled buildings, and the clamor of workers and a radio in the distance were the only things to cut through the silence.

According to National Weather Service, as of Sunday morning, the river is predicted to crest at 23 feet early Tuesday, making it second only to the record breaking flood of 2008, when the river crested at 31.12 feet.

For the residents of Cedar Rapids, the oncoming flood is a stark reminder of eight years ago, when historic flooding of the Cedar River destroyed homes and businesses.

From the floods came the slow process of rebuilding and revamping, which resulted in the current New Bohemia, that happens to be the area of high risk with the current flood.

“We’re in fairly good shape here at the market; we’ve gotten a lot of stuff out in preparation for the worst-case scenario that we get water in the building,” said Scott Kruger, the executive director of the New Bo City Market. “We are barricading and sandbagging all the doors and areas where water can get in.”

Kruger said the market will be as prepared as it can be by the time water enters the area. The river was expected to hit flood stage Sunday, according to the weather service.

Cedar Rapids has offered free sandbags to those who need them and has held frequent meetings to brief the community on flood predictions and services provided.

The flood predictions came suddenly, and caught many off-guard. The owner of the downtown shop Top Drawer was not in the city when preparations began, but that didn’t stop the store from being protected.

Randy Shields, a friend of the owner, was one of many volunteers who moved valuables out of Top Drawer and onto a truck.

“It’s supposed to be about 6 feet lower than it was, so that’s a good thing, I guess, but still pretty bad. I think everyone seems to be much better prepared now,” he said. “The city is much better prepared. I have a lot of confidence.”

Shields, who was in Cedar Rapids for the 2008 flood, said it was a surreal experience.

Officials say the floods are expected to affect the downtown region surrounding the river, and communities out in Palo, a smaller neighboring town. Community members volunteered on Sept. 23 to lay sandbags, move people out of homes and businesses, and provide support to the area. Some Hawkeyes even made their way up I-380 to help.

“I didn’t realize what was happening until I was just on the internet last [Sept. 22] night, and I knew that I didn’t really have plans for tonight,” University of Iowa wrestler Phillip Laux said. “I got some teammates rounded up to come help Cedar Rapids and give back to the fans that give us so much.”

Along with the volunteers, companies have volunteered time and resources to assist those affected by flooding. U-Haul of Iowa offered 30 days of free self-storage for those who need it, Westdale Mall offered its parking lot for individuals who need a place to park, and CRST, a trucking company, has offered its semis to help move people and businesses out of the flood zone.

A strong sense of community bonded people in Cedar Rapids this past weekend.

“I had a lot of people grab me last night and during the day today saying they felt compelled to come out here because they wanted to save [New Bo],” Kruger said. “They didn’t want it to go away; they were concerned for it, they felt a personal connection with it.”

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