Cedar Rapids a Stronger Community

Cedar Rapids is no stranger to floods. For as long as anyone can remember, the Cedar River has wreaked havoc on those who live and work close to its banks.

KCRG Photo

KCRG Photo

When a foot of rain fell in communities in northern Iowa two weeks ago, meteorologists predicted the Cedar River would challenge historic levels, and flood the communities along its banks.

It was apparent that Cedar Rapids was on the verge of another major flood only 8 years after the Cedar River rose 20 feet above flood stage. Many found it hard to believe it could happen again so soon.

(It cost the city over $2 billion to restore the downtown area and took it years to recover.)

But instead of panicking, the entire community sprang into action, filling sandbags and moving items from businesses and homes in the downtown area.

Some located available resources and sought shelters for displaced citizens. Others made meals for those who were hungry. Everyone opened their homes and their hearts to those affected by the flood.

In other words, we did the same thing we did 8 years ago, only better. We knew now what to do, and we did it.

Cedar Rapids held its breath as the river began to rise. Drones and social media kept citizens up-to-date on the areas hardest hit, including Ushers Ferry, Seminole Valley and Ellis parks, and areas southeast of the river.

And as the river crested, Ron Corbett, Cedar Rapids’ mayor, that if the Hesco barriers (which they used to build a wall around the downtown area) held, “they would have saved the city.”

The barriers did hold the flood waters back (though there was some controversy about how the city determined where to place the barriers) and the majority of the downtown area was spared.

But it wasn’t just the barriers, the pumps, and the sandbags that saved our city. It was the countless volunteers who poured positive energy into filling sandbags, moving furniture and equipment; those who brought food and water to the volunteers, and worked around the clock to make sure our homes and businesses were safe; these are the real heroes.

It is because of them that we are emerging from this close-call an even stronger community.

Local band, Four Star Fate, wrote a song to pay tribute to the people in our community: “We Rise Above”

Cedar Rapids, a community working together

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Looking down A Avenue S.E. toward the Cedar River June 13, 2008 (Quaker Oats is on the right). (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

Nearly five years ago,  the Cedar River rose to an all-time level of 31 feet. It spilled over its banks to cover a whopping 10 square miles of the city. The people of Cedar Rapids were faced with the challenge of not only recovering from the damage the muddy waters created, but to look ahead at what the future held for the city and its inhabitants.

Slowly, the city began to emerge from the shell-shock that had settled on the community following the flood.  Those who had helped place sandbags to try to keep the waters from further damaging their properties came back after the waters receded to assist in the clean-up.

Together, the people of Cedar Rapids picked up the pieces of their shattered lives and began to plan how they would rebuild their city.

Businesses began moving back to the downtown area. Houses that stood empty along the river, too damaged to repair, were torn down to make way for new structures.  And the residents of Cedar Rapids finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

In the past year, a new federal building was built on the corner of 8th Avenue and 2nd Street SE. and a new courthouse was built downtown. The renovated civic center will make its debut June 1 with a concert by popular musical group Lady Antebellum, and several other new buildings will also be completed this summer, as well as an outdoor amphitheater.

The new amphitheater is being constructed on the banks of the Cedar River-March 2013 (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

The new amphitheater is being constructed on the banks of the Cedar River-March 2013 (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

The New Bo District, 12th Avenue and 3rd Street S.E., boasts the city’s first year-round farmer’s market, a new books store, a new coffee shop, and an art center in the Cherry Building. Several eating and drinking establishments also complement the district.

Additionally, Linn County residents recently voted to allow a group of investors to build a casino in Cedar Rapids, which is scheduled to open in 2016.

It has taken time, but Cedar Rapids is on its way to becoming even better than it was before the historical flood.

When the Cedar River began to rise in June 2008, no one could predict the devastation flooding could cause or how long it would take to rebuild. But according to Scott Loggins, a Cedar Rapids business owner who helped to organize the Cedar Rapids Small Business Recovery Group, communities that experience a flood such as Cedar Rapids typically take 10 years to recover. He cited the infamous flood in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

One thing I know about my community is that when something needs to be done, we do it, together. We stand beside one another in love and support, no matter what. That’s what I love most about Cedar Rapids. That’s why people choose to live here.

Congratulations, Cedar Rapids. We have done a great job rebuilding our community, together.