Epic Rebirth

Faces of the flood: running pumps, rescuing pets

He drove home to get his boat, then returned to help

Jim Steinfadt stands by his jon boat at his home in Blairstown. Steinfadt worked 18 hours on June 12, 2008, trying to keep floodwaters out of the Penford Products plant in Cedar Rapids. He then to his home in Atkins, hooked up his jon boat and returned to Cedar Rapids to help rescue pets from flooded homes. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Jim Steinfadt stands by his jon boat at his home in Blairstown. Steinfadt worked 18 hours on June 12, 2008, trying to keep floodwaters out of the Penford Products plant in Cedar Rapids. He then to his home in Atkins, hooked up his jon boat and returned to Cedar Rapids to help rescue pets from flooded homes. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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By 3 a.m. June 12, 2008, Jim Steinfadt had been working to keep the Penford Products plant, near the 12th Avenue Bridge, dry for close to 18 hours.

As a crane operator, he was used to long hours. During this particular long shift, though, he said he had quite a view of the flood.

“I spent many quiet hours, sitting there, watching,” recalled Steinfadt, 53.

As he worked several pumps, trying to keep water on the river side of the dike around Penford, he could see the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library as 8 feet of water crept inside.

He watched as workers drilled holes in the 16th Avenue Bridge — the Bridge of the Lions — to save it from collapsing.

Near midnight, when Penford pulled the pumps out of the water, he watched as the railroad bridge near the Eighth Avenue Bridge collapsed.

“It was quite a sight to see,” he said. “I never thought I’d watch a bridge going down like that.”

Later that morning, he and others from Tri-State Crane and Rigging Service returned to pull their 120-ton crane away from the rising waters.

But with much of the city underwater and the river still rising, it was impossible to move the crane. Unable to work, Steinfadt briefly helped with sandbagging before driving to his home in Atkins in Benton County, where he hooked up his jon boat and drove back to Cedar Rapids.

He had heard the Cedar Rapids Fire Department needed boats and, after having worked as a pizza delivery driver in Cedar Rapids, he knew his way around.

About 8,000 people had been evacuated from flooded neighborhoods by then. Many had left their pets behind, believing they’d be home soon. It soon became evident that wouldn’t happen.

So Steinfadt dipped his boat into the river near a gas station on the west side, about a half-mile from where the river’s bank should have been. With a firefighter and an Army reservist, he set out to collect about 40 of those pets from the Time Check neighborhood.

“I had no problem doing that,” Steinfadt said. “Unless they wanted me to go pick up some boa constrictor.”

They picked up dozens of cats and dogs and one ferret, he remembers, and handed them off to the Cedar Valley Humane Society.

One boat, he recalled, returned with a large red parrot.

The experience isn’t one he would ever want to relive, but he was glad to be able to help.

“I have a lot of friends that live there,” he said. “That’s just the kind of person I am. When somebody needs help, I help.”

Nowadays, Steinfadt is living in Blairstown with his boat and his 4-year-old chocolate lab, Grizz.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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