Heavy Rains Lead To Evacuations In North Iowa, Sandbagging Underway In Cedar Rapids

Sep 22, 2016

Updated at 10:15pm Thursday.

Sandbagging continues in communities along the Shell Rock and Cedar Rivers in northeast Iowa  after portions of Butler and Floyd county were hit with as much as a foot of rain last night. To the southeast, people in Cedar Rapids have begun building sandbag levees to protect an area devastated in 2008.

In Butler County, Sheriff Jason Johnson says volunteers who want to assist with cleanup are welcome, but sightseers are not.

“Up here in Greene about 80 homes are affected,” he says. “People are moving their household goods to higher ground and businesses are doing the same. So extra people just driving around and backing up traffic is not helpful.”

Water in parts of Green are reported waist-deep.

"Once the water started coming up, people voluntarily evacuated," said Mayor Jim O'Brien.  "We went through this drill in 2008."

Downstream in Clarksville, those who want to help are asked to report to the maintenance shed near the water tower.   In Waverly, city leaders are scrambling to relocate an Octoberfest event that is scheduled near the river this weekend.

A flood warning is in effect until 11:15 Friday morning in Butler and Bremer Counties.  The National Weather Service says flooding will remain below 2008 levels, but still be very significant.

In Mason City, officials say people who live in two apartment complexes had been evacuated because of flooding.  An emergency shelter has been set up at the Salvation Army building.

Meanwhile, downriver communities like Waterloo, Vinton, Anamosa, and Cedar Rapids are monitoring flooding predictions.

Late Thursday, volunteers began piling sandbags around the New Bo City Market and nearby homes.

The city is bracing for the Cedar River to crest Monday or Tuesday at about 24 feet.  That would be a height second only to the 2008 flooding disaster, which saw a crest of 31 feet.  The city is calling for volunteers Friday to help move books and Opera Theater props out of the downtown Cherry Building.

On Thursday morning, Mary Santana was among several business women standing outside their shops in the Czech Village area of the city. 

“What I look for is when they start putting caps on the sewers on Bowling Street and C Avenue,” she said. “That’s when I start worrying that the water is getting a little higher than I expect.”

City workers in Cedar Rapids cap a storm sewer to prevent the Cedar River from backing up onto city streets.
Credit Dean Borg/IPR

Just beyond her eyesight, a few blocks away, Mike Leven was among a Cedar Rapids public works crew, working in a street alongside the Cedar River.

“We’re setting up plugs into storm pipe,” he said. “Protection for flood. The river backing up into the catch basins which then floods the streets.”

Businesses owners like Nancy Smucker are wary.

“I’m a shop owner down here in Czech Village,” she said.  “I’m starting to get a little worried. I was here in 2008, and we had nine-foot in the buildings. All the buildings down here.”

North and northeastern Iowa were expected to receive another 1-2” of rain by Friday morning.