It's been raining pretty heavily the last few days in Iowa, complete with pounding thunder and some great arching lighting. The power in my dorm has even gone out a couple times. Currently, Des Moines is under SEVEN River Flood Warnings — this is mind-boggling to me, considering I originate from an area that rarely, if ever, had any type of serious flooding problems. The concept of a wall of water is still distinctly foreign to me.
I have, however, seen the devastating aftermath of intense flooding. This past spring, instead of going home to my frigid homeland, or going to Mexico to contract swine flu, I went to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as part of an alternative spring break trip. Cedar Rapids was absolutely hammered last year by record flooding, which rose above the 500-year floodplain and affected thousands of homes and businesses. The images that came out of the city were given heavy airtime on major news stations for a few days, before the rains and the water subsided. The problems Cedar Rapids face, then, have largely left the mindset of the public.
As I quickly discovered upon arriving in the city, complete rehabilitation is a long way from complete. The group and I worked heavily in a lower-income neighborhood which had been above the 500-year floodplain. Of the street we worked on, only one person who lived there before the flood still lives there. Their neighbors just picked up and left because the homes were deemed so low-risk for flooding, flood insurance was optional for many, and it is understandable why many would have chosen not to purchase it. Because of this, a lot of people picked up and left, leaving empty houses filled with mold, streets littered with garbage, streets devoid of life.
After the floods, residents were encouraged to put their heaps of hulking garbage out onto the curb, where the city would haul it away in trucks. The neighbor of the house we were working on showed us photographs of the huge piles of trash. This leads me to wonder — where has all this garbage gone? Has there been any concern given to the environment, or has the city simply reacted in the quickest and most efficient manner? How much garbage has been taken out? How much is left?
During this next week I am hoping to get into contact with the agency we worked with during our time in Cedar Rapids and find some answers to these questions. I'm also curious as to this year's flood-risk and the response that Cedar Rapids will take if it happens again. I'll include my findings in a more journalistic blog post. You should expect to see something by the end of this week.
(Photos: A volunteer from Drake University helps shovel out pieces of a ceiling. Credit: Amy Russell
Piles of garbage outside a Cedar Rapids home during my trip over spring break. Credit: Amy Russell)