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More rain pelts Iowa communities

BY SUSAN KIM | INDEPENDENCE, Iowa | May 21, 1999

INDEPENDENCE, Iowa (May 21, 1999) -- More rain pelted parts of Iowa Friday,

producing more flooding in an already waterlogged state. Flooding from the

new rain has made a difficult situation for many of the state's residents

even more stressful.

As flood waters recede Iowa residents will return home to mud-damaged

homes, but with a resilient spirit, say disaster response officials.

Recovery will

mean restoring their homes -- some 1,500 people were

displaced -- and, for many, restoring emotional


After record flooding in northeast and killer tornadoes

in the west, people's feelings range from "shock over

devastation they've never seen before, to counting their

blessings that they're still here at all," said Sheriff

Terry Baxter in Harrison County, where tornadoes killed

two people, injured 21 others, and destroyed six homes.

Those feelings are present on an ever larger scale in

northeast Iowa, where swollen rivers submerged entire

towns, trapped residents on their roofs, and put scores

of small businesses out of commission in a nine-county

area that has been declared a state disaster area and is

under consideration for federal aid.

Colette Greenley, a member of the First United Methodist

Church in the town of Independence, said that the flood

waters indiscriminately invaded people's lives. "One

woman in our church runs an assisted living program for

people here, helping them with things like shopping for

groceries and renting apartments. Her business was

completely destroyed. It's shame because she helped

people who were already vulnerable -- people that may have

suffered flood damage, too," she said.

While the American Red Cross and Salvation Army continue to

respond to emergency needs, some faith-based

organizations are developing plans for longer-term

response. Carol Fredrich, vice president for Lutheran

Social Services (LSS) of Iowa, said that coordinating

volunteer teams, financial support, and follow-up mental

health counseling will be among the priorities.

But the response must be crafted to fit the character of

the area, where damage struck many small unincorporated

towns of 300 people or less, she cautioned. "People in

rural areas or small towns aren't as likely to go to a

mental health counselor. There is more of a stigma

associated with counseling."

But that doesn't mean it can't happen. "The best way is

to visit folks in their homes or wherever they gather. We

call it 'counseling over a cup of coffee or at the

kitchen table.' "

John Benson, public information officer in the Iowa

Office of Emergency Management, said that lodging in

shelters remained light despite the large number of

displaced people. "The vast majority move in with friends

or relatives. Within this state, that's not uncommon," he


"And people will stay doubled up for longer," added


Sheriff Baxter said that, already, out-of-state

volunteers were assisting with clean-up and damage

assessment. The Mid-American Baptist Men are operating

disaster response equipment including pumps, pressure

washers, and generators. LSS, the United Church of

Christ, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and the United

Methodist Committee on Relief are also assisting with

damage assessment or with future planning.

Representatives from the Iowa Interfaith Disaster

Recovery Network, Ecumenical Ministries of Iowa, and

Church World Service are meeting Monday to determine

specific actions needed to meet long-term needs. "When

the fanfare is gone, the press is gone, the television is

gone -- that's our role," said Jim Almquist, co-chair of

the Iowa Interfaith Disaster Recovery Network.

So far most volunteers are from within the state. "The

good thing is that we had so many people come in and

offer to help," said Baxter. "The bad thing is -- so many

got away without being thanked! We're planning to run a

big thank-you ad in the newspaper."

Baxter added that his county's youth deserve a standing

ovation. "They walked through the streets, salvaging

personal property, then cleaning up debris. We're hearing

so many negative things about young people lately.

Well, they went to work and they got the job done."

Even in the midst of such generosity and community

spirit, some people are simply shocked. Lillian Cue, an

organist at the First Presbyterian Church in

Independence, said that once-predictable creeks and

rivers now seem untrustworthy. "The river did some weird

things," she said, "things it's never done before. People

have lived here for years, and they've seen all kinds of

floods, but they've never gotten water in their homes.

Now, they do. Their belongings are lined up on the curb.

They have to sanitize everything."

The two main bridges in Independence are closed, and

traffic is continually snarled on one main accessible


Other towns are still in a "flood-fight" mode, especially

in low-lying area where waters recede more slowly. People

are being warned not to pump out their basements too

quickly because, if they water level inside is lower than

outside, the walls could cave in. Individuals that own

wells are also being cautioned to test their water. The

University of Iowa Hygienic Lab is providing free water

testing jugs through local health or extension services.

As Iowa moves from initial response and faces the more

long-term challenges of processing insurance claims,

coordinating volunteers, and sorting through emotional

issues, people say they'll stay tough. "Tragic events

have happened, but we're still stepping up to the plate,"

said Baxter.

He and other lifelong Iowa residents say that this is the

worst disaster they've seen - but certainly not the only

one. "I don't remember anything this major in my

lifetime. There were tornadoes in the '80s but nothing

like this."

Benson added that, when people hear about this week's

record-breaking floods, they automatically think the last

record was set in the 1993 flood. "But that's not the

case," he said. "When you go back and look it up, a lot

of rivers had records still standing from the '60s and

'70s that were broken or nearly broken this week."

updated May 21, 1999

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