June 23, 2008

Courage Trumps Destruction in Cedar Rapids


CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - While media coverage looks to highlight flood victims'anxiety and anger, those emotions weren't easily found Tuesday night in a flooded residential neighborhood on Cedar Rapids'near northwest side.

In fact, the residents'stoic determination to reclaim their homes and willingness to abide meandering journalists'questions was equal parts inspirational and heart-breaking.

It was early evening of the first day residents in the 1400 block of Ninth Street NW were allowed to go back in their homes, assessing the damage and hauling their ruined possessions to the curb.

Most had put in a long day doing what they needed, determined to make a dent in the formidable job ahead but growing weary as dusk approached.

The stench of fouled water hanging in the air accompanied by ever- growing swarms of insects, most of those who remained on the street were ready to call it a day.

Standing out in front of his neighbor's house, Russ Shelton welcomed the reporter and photographer to enter his house.

"Show the world," Shelton said, leading the Telegraph Herald team up the side steps and into his kitchen.

In a neighborhood of neat little bungalows, it was easy to see Shelton's had been one of them - before 6 inches

of floodwater settled across the first floor. Most of the water had drained out, leaving behind sludge to settle on whatever the water touched.

No, the family didn't have flood insurance because the area is in a 500-year flood plain.

"Couldn't get it,'cause we might have needed it," Shelton smirked.

But he was impressed with the quick response he'd gotten from the call he made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The lady from FEMA showed up to get the paperwork started within three days of their evacuation, he said.

Paw prints showed where the Sheltons'cat, left behind when the couple rounded up their three dogs and quickly abandoned their home the Thursday morning before, had come down from the second floor to snack on the bowl of cat food left for it on the kitchen table.

A half-finished pot of coffee sat on the kitchen counter, left behind when the Sheltons realized the water wasn't going to stop rising across their backyard.

After the high water of 1993, the city built up the berms along the river, Shelton said, and those had worked fine. Until now.

Three years ago, the Sheltons began a complete re-do on the home. Once-polished hard wood floors were coated in filth and nearly new kitchen appliances ruined by the water sat out near the front curb, ready for the junk truck.

And yet, when asked what he was going to do, Shelton didn't hesitate.

"Oh, we'll be back," Shelton said. "Get'er cleaned up, and by the end of summer we'll be barbecuein'. You come back then and join us."

Across the street and down one house, Herb and Betty Hansen sat on their front lawn near where salvaged furniture was placed for safekeeping, a pile of damaged goods down at the front curb.

At first look, the Hansens appeared tired and discouraged, but they needed only to learn their visitors were from Dubuque and they both lit up.

"I was born in Dubuque, graduated from Senior High School," Betty said, smiling.

"Been to the casino," Herb grinned. "A lady in a wheelchair backed into me and I fell down and broke my leg. Boy, they couldn't have been nicer to me!"

Oh, sure, they would be staying in the neighborhood, the Hansens agreed. They've lived there 50 years, a daughter lives just up the hill; that's where they would be staying until their house is cleaned up.

But this is home. When all is said and done, this is where they will be.


With that kind of attitude, it is no wonder federal and state officials are singing the praises of those they encounter as they tour the damaged areas. But thankfully, elected officials are doing more than photo ops.

It appears the diligent attention paid by Gov. Chet Culver, Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin and Iowa's congressional delegation is paying off in getting quick federal disaster designation and funding on its way.


Dubuque County Republicans are holding their annual summer picnic next Sunday, June 29, at the Oxus Grotto in Asbury.

The event will be from noon to 3 p.m., with lots of burgers, brats, baked beans and desserts. There will be a pie auction after lunch, and candidates, of course, happy to meet and greet.

Tickets are $10 a person or $30 for a family of four and should be purchased by Wednesday, June 25. Make checks payable to Dubuque County GOP and mail to them at PO Box 1052, Dubuque 52004-1052.

Originally published by MARY RAE BRAGG TH staff writer/[email protected]

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