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Cedar Rapids officials confident, cautious as crest approaches

Residents in evacuation zone urged to get out

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CEDAR RAPIDS — And now we wait.

Flood preparations were being completed Sunday. The National Guard was arriving to protect the flood zone where city officials have encouraged residents to evacuate. All the while, the Cedar River crept up to major flood stage — 16 feet.

The river is expected to top 20 feet by Monday afternoon, making it the second highest crest in city history. The National Weather Service is projecting a crest of 23 feet by Tuesday morning.

Only 2008 saw higher river levels.

But as the river rises, so too does confidence in the city’s ability to mitigate the looming flood. City officials expressed optimism, but also preached caution on Sunday morning at the daily news conference at the Ice Arena.

“We feel better,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said after the news conference. “We have to be extremely cautious. Until this is over, we can’t be too confident.”

“Wednesday afternoon we got together and made the decision that we would need to react ... to the flood that was approaching our community,” Mayor Ron Corbett said Sunday. “We had four days. This is the last day to get all of the work done that needs to be done. People have been working very, very hard.”

Pomeranz said onlookers staying clear of the sandbagging and work sites allowed city crews and contractors to complete their work.

“By allowing our crews to get to sites faster, they’re getting the work done more effectively, more efficiently,” he said.

Public Works Director Jen Winter said crews would be finishing flood mitigation efforts in the Time Check, Kingston Village and Czech Village neighborhoods by Sunday afternoon. In addition to barriers, plastic was being used to fortify berms and sandbag walls. Flood protections were being built to 26 feet, she said.

“We feel by the end of the day we will have prepared ourselves to the best of our ability to fight these waters,” Winter said, expressing “increased confidence” in those measures.

Throughout Sunday’s news conference, city officials emphasized the importance of heeding evacuation orders. Fire Chief Mark English said despite the new, lower projections, the evacuation zone — which reflects a 28-foot crest — would not be re-evaluated until Tuesday morning, after the river crests. Residents and businesses were asked to evacuate by 8 p.m. Sunday.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” English said. “Please be aware, we do not want you to stay in your home or stay in the floodwaters until it’s too late.”

Alliant Energy’s Doug Kopp said while Alliant today is better suited to limit power outages than it was in 2008, he can’t guarantee residences and businesses in the flood zone will maintain power. The company can manage the power grid circuit by circuit, but said even homes that are “high and dry” could lose power.

“We’re hoping to keep more people online over the course of the flood,” he said. “But I don’t want assumptions to be made.”

Brian Gibb with MidAmerican Energy said gas service has been disconnected to 1,100 properties already and up to 1,700 more properties could be affected by Monday.

Mayor Corbett identified three “lines of defense” in fighting the flood: the barriers and berms that are being put in place; sandbagging and fortifying homes; and the evacuation plan. He said evacuees should anticipate being out of the homes and businesses for close to a week.

“If everything goes well, Saturday people will have access to their businesses and homes,” he said, adding people could get in earlier if the barriers are successful in limiting the flood’s impact.

Police Chief Wayne Jerman said the Iowa National Guard will mobilize 300 to 400 members to assist in securing the evacuation zone at traffic check points. An additional 60 police officers from other jurisdictions will be assisting with police operations.

Jerman said the department enacted its emergency staffing plan Sunday morning, which means all officers will be on duty on 12-hour shifts.

“That will double the number of officers out and about in the city,” Jerman said, adding the investigation division also will assist with traffic control and other calls for service.

A curfew in the flood zone will go into effect at 8 p.m. Sunday and last until 7 a.m. Monday. That curfew will remain in place daily until the flood threat has passed, Jerman said.

All downtown bridges were closed Sunday, in addition to the Eighth Avenue, 12th Avenue and 16th Avenue Bridges. Ramps on Interstate 380 were closed at Fifth Avenue SW/Diagonal Drive SW, First Street W, First Street E and First Avenue W.

Interstate 380 is accessible via Wilson Avenue SW, 33rd Avenue SW or Seventh Street NE.

Closures include:

Ellis Blvd. from Edgewood Road to Penn Avenue

C Street SW at Ely Road SW

Old River Road SW at Big Bend Road

• Ellis Road west of Edgewood Road

• Ellis Blvd. from Ellis Lane to E Avenue

• E Avenue NW between Ellis Blvd. NW and First Street NW

• First, Second and Third Avenues between Sixth Street W to Fifth Street E

• Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Avenues SE between First Street SE to Sixth Street SE

• Eighth Avenue between First Street SW to 10th Street SE

• 12th Avenue between C Street SW to 10th Street SE

• 16th Avenue between C Street SW to Fourth Street SE

• First Street NE between A Street NE to First Avenue E

• Seventh Street SE at Eighth Avenue SE to southbound traffic

• Eighth Street SE at Eighth Avenue SE to southbound traffic.

Edgewood Road was projected to be closed from Glass Road to just south of Ellis Road on Sunday evening.

On Sunday afternoon, thousands of new sandbags were trucked in from the city of Waterloo to the City Services Center on 15th Avenue SW to be donated to Cedar Rapids for use in flood protection.

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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