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Elderly couple loses houseful of memories

BY P.J. HELLER | HAMBURG, IOWA | June 25, 1998

HAMBURG, IOWA (June 25, 1998) -- Ronald Emberton wasn't too concerned when torrential rains began soaking

southwestern Iowa. He also wasn't too worried when the Nishnabotna River

near his home began rising. Nor was he too alarmed when the river began

overflowing its banks.

Having lived in the Hamburg, Iowa, area since the mid-1930s, Emberton had

seen it all before, including a major flood in 1993. But for the

88-year-old retired cattle rancher and farmer, the extent of the rain and

flooding this June was something he had never before experienced.

The flooding forced a reluctant Emberton and his wife from their home and

destroyed most of their personal possessions, including a lifetime of

irreplaceable memories. Water in the home was four feet deep in some places.

It wasn't until Emberton's grandson, a Hamburg police office, came to the

single-story home about one-quarter of a mile from the river that the

couple was convinced to leave. At that point, water was already covering

the street.

"It's awful hard on them," said Emberton's son Dale, also a Hamburg

resident but whose house was not affected by the flood waters. "He wanted

to go back in there the day after he moved out."

It could be weeks or months, however, before the house is habitable again,

according to Dale Emberton.

In the meantime, Ronald and Bernice Emberton have found temporary shelter

in the parsonage at the Church of Christ in Hamburg. The parsonage was

vacant while the tiny church seeks a new minister.

"They've been flooded out twice," said Cheryl Sheldon, whose husband Steve

is filling in as a lay minister at the 15-member church. "This time it's a

whole lot worse than the last time {in 1993)."

That assessment was confirmed by Tim Burke, a spokesman for the Federal

Emergency Management Agency. He said the current flooding in Iowa was the

worst since 1993.

Dale Emberton said his father had lost a number of items in the 1993 flood

but was convinced that the water would never again reach that level.

"When I was a kid, it (the water) would get in the yard," Dale Emberton

recalled. "That was as far as it ever would get."

This June, the water went even further. The river crested Wednesday (June

17) some 15 feet above flood stage. A three-mile earthen levee, reinforced

with sandbags piled on by National Guardsmen, local residents and members

of faith-based organizations, withstood the surging flood waters, sparing

the town of 1,250 from more massive flooding.

About half of the town's residents were evacuated from their homes and

housed at a shelter set up by the American Red Cross. Members of the

Hamburg Inter-Church Council, formed during the floods five years ago,

served as chaplains at the shelter.

"The pastors in town come from a very diverse group from extremely liberal

to ultra-conservative," said Scott Williams, pastor of the Hamburg Assembly

of God and president of the council. "But . . . when we're hurting or we

have problems, we can go to any pastor in town and there's somebody there

for us. They're a very close-knit group of people."

Residents were allowed to return to their homes after one or two days, when

waters began receding. Most of the damage in the region was to farm fields.

The town of Hamburg, itself, escaped damage.

"It could have been so much worse," admitted City Clerk Kathy Kahue. "We

were within inches of having a major, major problem. We held the river

back. We won the battle."

The elder Embertons, who live just outside the town, weren't as lucky.

"They lost just about everything," Sheldon said. "Just about all of their

furniture is lost. Their piano, the water picked it up and turned it over.

The refrigerator was picked up and turned over..."

"They're going to lose most of it," Dale Emberton said of his father's


Posted June 25, 1998

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