Friday, October 17, 2008

The Great Flood of '08

While it made headlines during June, other than in IA the memories of the Great Flood of 2008 have largely been ignored by the media. It seems to be much more newsworthy to continue to study a big city like New Orleans still living with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina rather than with the “git ‘er done” approach of rural IA.

I was in Cedar Rapids recently for a board meeting, seeing first hand the devastation that was wrought upon that city and neighboring towns along the Iowa and Cedar Rivers.

Mark Hanson, VP of sales for the local Caterpillar dealer, explained what happened, “We got around 70 inches of snow last winter and had snow on the ground from Thanksgiving until April. Then we were hit with huge rains during all of April and May. The river started rising in early June and by June 9th they estimated that it would crest in Cedar Rapids at 20 feet, about a foot above the previous record set in the floods of 1993. By the 11th they were estimating 24.7’ which would have made it a 500 year event. On the 13th it finally crested at 31.3’. 1,300 city blocks were flooded, including the entire downtown.”

It is estimated that over 2,000 houses will need to be demolished because of the devastation of this flood. Six to seven thousand people lost their jobs. For a town of 130,000 it was truly a 500 year event, one that they hope never to repeat.

And, what happened? Well there wasn’t any looting that took place. Neighbors helped neighbors. Strangers helped strangers. The city pulled together.

Companies like Hy-Vee and Aegon set up massive kitchens to serve meals to volunteers and those without homes. Caterpillar donated the use of over 50 earth moving machines to non-profits in the community to assist in their clean-up efforts. Other businesses also pitched in to start the rebuilding.

It’s similar to what I heard in the aftermath of Katrina on the MS Gulf Coast, when those in need generally cited the efforts of Home Depot and Wal-Mart for helping them in the immediate aftermath of their disaster.

Would the USA be better off “outsourcing” disaster relief to the Red-Cross and private industry?

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