Costs rising quickly as Iowans clean up after major floods

Published 10:36 am Friday, August 26, 2016

By Mark Steil FM

DECORAH, Iowa — Cleanup is underway from one of the worst floods ever seen in northeast Iowa.

Email newsletter signup

Some unofficial sources measured as much as 10 inches of rain Tuesday night and Wednesday, and one person was killed in a flash flood.

At Johanna Kittelson’s house, a pump was steadily sucking the several feet of standing water in her basement out onto her driveway.

Kittelson’s house is in Freeport, an unincorporated community just across the Upper Iowa River from Decorah. The Upper Iowa rose out of its banks after heavy thunderstorms drenched the region.

“We were about 26 inches from the water reaching the main level,” said Kittelson. “We just lost everything.”

A couch that floated across the basement floor ended up lodged against the bottom of the staircase. A musty smell drifted up from the lower floor.

“I think it hit me the hardest yesterday when I realized we lost all of our kid’s, like, Christmas ornaments that they made through the years,” said Kittelson. “And personal things like that that you can’t replace.”

Getting rid of the water that surrounds many Freeport homes has required some big pumps. Roadways that are higher than residential yards acted like levees, trapping floodwaters.

Across the street from Kittelson, Linda Peterson’s main worry is what happened inside her home. The flood left her with some big bills to replace appliances in her basement.

“Furnace, water heater, washer, dryer, freezer, everything,” Peterson said. “My kids had stuff stored down there and it just came up so fast I wasn’t able to get really anything out. So, I’m sure it’s all at a total loss.”

Like many others in the flood zone of northeast Iowa, she’s not sure how she’ll come up with the money to buy new appliances.

“I don’t have flood insurance, we’re not in a flood plain,” Peterson said. “So I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

She’s hoping state or federal programs will be available to offset some of the cost.

That’s something that’s also on the mind of Decorah city clerk Wanda Hemesath. She says many people across the region will take big financial hits to replace what the floodwaters damaged. There’s also been an emotional toll.

“I think there’s a lot of devastated people out there,” said Hemesath. “We’re just trying to help them as best we can and give them the information and the resources they need.”

The city has set up drop-off sites for flood debris. Hemesath also says Decorah, as well as other jurisdictions in northeast Iowa, are working to come up with an overall damage estimate that may lead to government help.