Don’t mess with Mother Nature

Published 7:02 am Saturday, June 14, 2008

One can’t help but be awed by the 2008 flood. The Cedar River, Dobbins Creek and Turtle Creek climbed to crest levels overnight, and by Thursday afternoon, the only way to maneuver through north Main Street was by boat as business owners rushed to save their buildings from the second disaster in four years.

Congressman Tim Walz came for a tour Friday afternoon. As we drove (drove!) from the Mower County Senior Center down Main to Austin Packaging Company, the first business on his visit, it was if a flood never happened. Walz was probably wondering if a flood ever actually occurred, and I’m sure Sen. Norm Coleman and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will be pondering what the flood actually looked like during their visits this weekend.

If this flood told us anything, it’s that Mother Nature is a force not to be reckoned with. In a day’s time, our lives can be changed forever and everything we have worked for and own gone before our eyes.

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Our flood was just one of many weather-related disasters in the area recently, and fortunately, not one of the worst.

While the Cedar River retreated as quickly as it had risen and broke over its banks onto streets like a body of water many times its size, residents in Cedar Rapids, Iowa braced for the worst as the Cedar River flooded more than 100 blocks of their city and about 9,000 residents were evacuated.

On Wednesday night, four teenagers were killed and 48 injured at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in Iowa when a tornado ripped through the western part of the state.

These disasters would even be considered small in scale compared to catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina, the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in China.

Life is fragile, and in just a moment can be stolen from us when severe weather rears its ugly head.

Sadly, our flood took one life and our thoughts are with the family and loved ones who undoubtedly were left in shock when Dale Wangen’s vehicle struck an embankment in Oakland Township.

I woke at 4 a.m. Thursday anticipating possible flooding, but I was not prepared for what I saw. I had never seen a flood like that up close.

I left the office and drove around Austin later at about 6 a.m. when another staff member reported she was having trouble finding an exit to Interstate 90.

With a camera in tow, I surveyed Turtle Creek and Cedar River, which by then looked more like the Mississippi as it gushed under the Fourth Avenue Northeast bridge, kicking up pop bottles and even a football. A man watching the river from the bridge said he thought this flood would be worse than 2004, and told a story of how he had been caught in the river at that exact place as a boy, but thankfully latched onto a tree and pulled himself onto the banks before the river’s current sucked him under.

By late morning, the Cedar was lapping at street curbs and waves rippled as pickups hauling sandbags hurried in their race to build barriers against the brown, murky water. People stood in dry spots staring with warped fascination as others steadfastly created walls as if this was something they did every day.

The man on the bridge was wrong with his prediction; a flood reminiscent of 2004 did not come to fruition, but seeing the Cedar at 20-plus feet was still pretty remarkable.

Seeing the Austin community respond the way it did in the face of Mother Nature, to me, was just as memorable as the flood itself.