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Small town finds hope in rebuilding after floods

Rebuilding continues from 2008 flooding in Iowa


"I canít say enough about what it means to me [to have the help]. Itís very hard to even express the amount of thanks I have. Iíve been overwhelmed"

—Fay Dykema, Palo, Ia. resident and Christian Reformed Church member

Palo, Ia. is a small town north of Cedar Rapids. During the Great Flood of Iowa in June, town members estimated 440 out of the 450 homes in Palo had water in them. But residents would not let the water keep them out of their community. With the help of several organizations and habitat for humanity, the town is more determined than ever to finish rebuilding.

Fay Dykema is one of those Palo residents who saw water take over her home. She said her house had about 4 Ĺ feet of water. When the waters receded, Fay and members of her church worked tirelessly to repair the damage from the water.

“We did that with 100 hours of volunteer time. Insurance estimated it to be a $10,000 value,” Dykema said. “We were out of the house for 12 Ĺ weeks. We stayed with friends and then were able to come back to the home to finish the work.”

Dykema said many of the volunteers helping rebuild her home were from her Christian Reformed Church in Lynn County.

According to Dykema, several organizations have made their way into her small community, where she has been active in long-term recovery from the floods. Dykema said without the faith-based organizations, she didn’t know where the community would be.

“The town is coming back strongly ahead. A lot of groups of volunteers were organized and have continued to keep a positive focus on how town can be rebuilt, improve things and work together as a cohesive community,” she said.

Dykema estimated 100 homes in the community are still vacant, and she said other families are living in their homes while they repair the damage. She said many of the town’s residents cleaned out their flood damaged homes themselves.

According to Dykema, one organization that came into Palo gave hope to this little town that could.

“Eight days of hope came in October, and they had 1300 people volunteer over 8 days,” Dykema said. “The incredible hope they gave us, even if things didn’t get done, the positive atmosphere gave a boost to everyone.”

And Dykema explained those emotional boosts have been instrumental to helping this small community come back to life.

“I can’t say enough about what it means to me [to have the help]. It’s very hard to even express the amount of thanks I have. I’ve been overwhelmed,” Dykema said.

The Christian Reformed Church of North America has a very active church-base in Iowa and Lynn County. According to Art Opperwall, manager of Volunteer Groups & Equipment for the CRWRC, they have been sending in groups to help rebuild homes damaged by floodwaters and will continue sending in groups for the coming months or even years.

About 40 miles south of Palo lay Iowa City. The vivid imagery of the University of Iowa and much of the town under floodwaters is etched in the brains of those who watched flood coverage on television or looked at photos in the newspaper. One church did everything they could to save their neighborhood and their church from the rising water.

The Parkview Evangelical Free church in Iowa City was the center for sandbagging efforts in their neighborhood. Scott Sterner, pastor for programming and operations, said about one million sandbags were built in their parking lot before the flood waters took over.

“As our lot began disappearing to the water, we kept moving our operation until finally we were in the very corner of the lot and they told us we had to leave,” Sterner said.

Sterner said when the waters started rising, and an evacuation was ordered, it felt like they were giving up the church.

“Essentially you’re letting the church succumb to the flood waters,” he said.

After the waters receded, Sterner said the church began a multi-stage effort to help the community as well as rebuild Parkview Church. Volunteers, other churches and more than 50 businesses helped Parkview Church with $800,000 in renovations. According to Sterner, rebuilding the church was important for the community.

“A church holds a lot of memories for people,” Sterner said. “There have been weddings and funerals at the church. It was a very emotional time for people. We went through a week of doing everything we could to physically save the facility and I think that made it all the more meaningful for people to walk back into the building.”

Parkview church has about 1,500 people come through its doors every weekend. Recently, the church held its grand reopening after the renovations and Sterner estimated 1,600-1,700 came to those services.

After the floods, Sterner said the church decided to form a task force to prepare for any future disasters. With flooding predicted again this spring from high precipitation levels this winter, Sterner said the task force and church officials are looking at every possible option to protect the church that lies on the banks of the Iowa River.

“We’re doing everything we can to be proactive in flood planning.”

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