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'It's crunchtime in Cedar Rapids'

Flooding at most critical and dangerous phase, officials warn

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Flood of 2016 is in its most critical — and dangerous — phase, city officials said Monday.

“It’s crunchtime in Cedar Rapids,” said Mayor Ron Corbett during Monday’s flood briefing.

“The next 48 hours are the most critical. The next 48 hours are the most dangerous. And the next 48 hours we need 100 percent cooperation from the citizens in both the evacuation area and outside the evacuation area.”

The Cedar River at Cedar Rapids started the day above major flood stage and surged toward a crest of 23 feet. The crest is forecast to hit the city Tuesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. If projections hold, it would be the second-highest level the river has reached in Cedar Rapids’ history — the record coming on June 13, 2008, when the river crested at 31.12 feet.

About 9.8 miles of sand-filled and earthen barriers have been erected since last week. Approximately 250,000 sandbags have been filled and used to fortify businesses and homes. Officials said the flood measures have been built to withstand a crest of 26 feet.

Now, the wait is on to see whether they hold.

“If it works, we will have saved the city,” Corbett said.

TEMPORARY PROTECTION

While officials touted an astounding turnout of city workers, contractors and citizen volunteers in responding to the rising waters and re-emphasized their confidence in the flood mitigation efforts, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz stressed those measures are temporary.

“A permanent flood protection would exceed $500 million,” he said. “The system we put in place — while well planned — is probably a $5 million to $6 million system that was built in two days.”

Public Works Director Jen Winter pleaded with pedestrians and motorists to stay away from the temporary flood walls, which could be vulnerable to breaches.

“We built a temporary system ...,” Winter said. “It’s not safe. It’s not permanent.”

Winter said city workers and contractors — outfitted with radios and flotation devices — are monitoring flood mitigation measures 24 hours a day until the threat of flooding passes. She said residents should not be surprised to see water seeping inside the walls.

“Seeping water is fine,” she said. “Rushing water is not.”

The city put out a last-minute call Monday morning for volunteers to help fill additional sandbags. Those sandbags are not being used for homes or businesses, but rather to fortify the existing infrastructure.

Winter said a few manhole plugs came loose but were addressed.

“Other than that, the system is holding,” she said.

EVACUATION ZONE QUIET

The flood evacuation zone — represented by a potential crest of 28 feet — has been quiet, police and fire officials said.

But a drone flyover showed that about half the evacuation zone still was occupied, said Assistant Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Greg Smith.

National Guard troops are to secure checkpoints in the flood zone, and police are patrolling within the zone, Police Chief Wayne Jerman said. Officers from the Iowa State Patrol, Department of Corrections, the Mount Vernon Police Department and The Eastern Iowa Airport are assisting with those efforts.

SCAMMERS AT WORK

Jerman said fraudsters already are targeting people within the flood zone. One scam asks that evacuees leave their doors unlocked. Another scam tells residents over the phone they can reserve a free hotel room by giving their credit card number.

Jerman urged all evacuees to lock their doors before leaving and not give out credit card information.

“It is unfortunate there are people trying to take advantage of our citizens,” Jerman said.

CRESTING UPDATES

Outside of Cedar Rapids, Linn County Emergency Management Director Mike Goldberg said, the Cedar River at Palo was expected to crest late Monday. The Wapsipinicon River at Central City was also expected to crest Monday.

“They are ramping up their operations,” Goldberg said of Central City. “The waters are rising fairly quickly.”

Goldberg said emergency management is also monitoring county highways. He said the Highway 1 bridge across the Cedar River is likely to be the first to be impacted by floodwaters, followed by Highway 13. He said Highway 30 could see closures, though that is less likely than earlier expected.

Though no one is being forced to evacuate, Corbett again pleaded with those who remain to leave the area.

“Anyone standing or on a bicycle or in a car doesn’t stand a chance” in the event of a breach, he said. “That’s why the evacuation is so important. If you’re in the evacuation zone, we’re asking you to please leave. We’re not going to force anybody out. We’re asking you to use common sense.”

The river is not forecast to get back below 18 feet until later this week, Winter said. Corbett said residents could get back into their homes Saturday, or even Friday, if the flood measures hold.

“Right now, our mission critical stage is 18 feet to 18 feet,” Winter said. “There won’t be much of a sense of normalcy until Saturday.”

Historic Crests

Here is a look at the 10 highest crests of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids. The Cedar is projected to crest at 23 feet Tuesday morning.

1. 31.12 feet — June 13, 2008

2. 20.00 feet — June 1, 1851

3. 20.00 feet — March 18, 1929

4. 19.66 feet — March 31, 1961

5. 19.27 feet — April 4, 1993

6. 18.60 feet — April 4, 1933

7. 18.51 feet — April 10, 1965

8. 18.31 feet — July 25, 1999

9. 18.30 feet — May 27, 2004

10. 18.23 feet — June 2, 2013

Source: Iowa Flood Information System

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

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