On an extended trip to Iowa this summer, we trekked over to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to visit longtime friend, Karen Vander Sanden. Karen also happens to be the spokeswoman for Mercy Medical Center which was evacuated during the city’s devastating June floods.
Five weeks earlier, an estimated 9.2 miles (which is roughly 1,300 city blocks) sat immersed in murky flood water when the Cedar River crested at unprecedented levels. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we drove slowly through block after block of total wreckage, and our hearts sank with the realization of what flood victims are actually up against. It’s one thing seeing it on television. Quite another when you’re seeing it first-hand.
Different colored placards were tacked to front doors to indicate if a house was safe to enter, and while the river had receded weeks earlier, abandoned homes still sat with clotheslines that sagged with now filthy items that had been hung out to dry the day the flood hit. From the street, we could still see watermarks that stopped at rooflines and devastated lives.
Downtown was heartbreaking too. Electricity had just been restored earlier that week, but it had the feeling distinct feeling of a ghost town.
Andy Deutmeyer, chef and owner of Blend says it was a long eight-days of being shut out of his downtown restaurant. Once inside, he discovered that the water had risen to nearly five feet.
“It was a breathtaking sight. You didn’t know what to say, or where to start, or what to do. We didn’t even know how to start, so we started with the wine rack behind the bar, and after that, just started throwing stuff away,” said Deutmeyer, who hopes to reopen in October.
Fortunately, restored electricity wasn’t the only sign of recovery. An Adopt-A-Business program was launched last month, pairing hard-hit downtown businesses with companies that were less affected by the flood.
Zins, a fine dining restaurant also located downtown, was paired with RuffaloCODY, a company that specializes in fund-raising software. CEO Al Ruffalo says his company has provided Zins with access to his legal department to review their insurance polices, and to his marketing department which has been using email to update Zins’ customer base on the restaurant’s status. The company has also replaced several computers for the restaurant, and employees donated $2,000 and plenty of man-hours cleaning so construction can begin inside.
“They lost their restaurant, but on the positive side, if we do this right, their business will be better than ever,” said Ruffalo.
Karen Slaughter of the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce says more than 600 businesses were damaged by the flood. While the Adopt-A-Business program can help, there’s a long waiting list for assistance. The news cycle has moved on, but they’re still accepting donations at the Job & Small Business Recovery Fund.
– Clare Leschin-Hoar