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Cedar Rapids Recovering from Late September 2016 Flood

Two ResilientAmerica Roundtable pilot communities have had to cope with flooding in recent weeks. Charleston, SC is still assessing the damage from the storm surge and flooding that accompanied Hurricane Matthew. Meanwhile, Cedar Rapids, IA, is well into its recovery from flooding along the Cedar River in late September.

The city is getting back to normal, says Linda Langston, a member of the ResilientAmerica Roundtable who was on the ground in Cedar Rapids in late September. Although there was flooding in the city, it was not as bad as people feared. “It didn’t get to the extreme it did before,” she said. “Everyone was relieved.”

When Langston says “before,” she means the catastrophic flood that hit Cedar Rapids in 2008, when the Cedar River crested at over 31 feet – 19 feet above flood stage – and inundated 10 squares miles of the city. Langston was chair of the Linn County Board of Supervisors at the time and helped manage the area’s response.

The 2008 experience was a life changing event for many residents and still influences their response to subsequent floods. “People knew what could happen,” says Langston, and they prepared accordingly. “The community had a really positive response,” pulling together in the four days before the flood to put up barriers, sandbags, and dirt berms. Businesses gave employees time off work to prepare and volunteer. A local high school marching band made the difficult decision to pull out of a band competition so they could help sandbag. (They were given an honorary 2nd place.)

In 2008, the river rose so high (31 feet) and so fast that it overwhelmed a huge volunteer effort. This time, despite the river cresting at nearly 23 feet, the second highest since 2008, the impact was more manageable and people could see and feel the benefit of their efforts. “There’s a sense of human satisfaction when you can work that hard and get results,” said Langston. ”But it still triggered a lot of anxiety. A lot of folks said, ‘I don’t know if I can go through this again.’”

Social media also played a prominent role in this flood event; it has “transformed the landscape of preparation,” Langston said. It was primarily a grassroots effort in which needs and resources could be easily connected. Someone would post about a need or problem – for example, “a resident…needs help clearing out his basement” – and volunteers would go there to help. Afterward, they would report that the problem was solved and volunteers would go elsewhere. “It was a very organic effort,” says Langston. “That was amazing to watch.”

Langston believes the ResilientAmerica Roundtable’s work in Cedar Rapids has helped strengthen the interdependent relationships that make preparation and response more efficient. This steady relationship-building is important to resilience, she says. “It is the day-to-day cultivation of relationships and preparation that add to that resilience and keep it in place.”

Charleston, S.C. is just beginning the recovery process from Hurricane Matthew. We will revisit their experience in the coming weeks and share how they are coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew as they recover and restore their community


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