Cedar Rapids residents trickle back as evacuation zone shrinks

Zone reduced as river levels fall, barriers hold

CEDAR RAPIDS — When Kevin Franks, 42, moved his family out of their home in the Time Check neighborhood, he thought they would be displaced for months.

Instead, he’s back a few days after leaving.

“I feel good we didn’t get water,” Franks said. “But I don’t feel great that the city doesn’t have flood barriers. This is terrifying if we’ve got to move out of our house every eight years.”

He gutted the basement and first floor of the house on Ninth Street NW near O Avenue NW and put nearly everything in storage. He and his wife, daughter and three dogs moved into a friend’s trailer.

Now that the Cedar River’s crest has passed without touching the property, Franks said he’ll haul their belongings back Thursday.

Temporary barriers and berms held back the river from most of the nearly 6,000 homes and businesses that officials had asked people to evacuate by Sunday night.

That zone was shrunk Wednesday morning, allowing about 2,500 people and businesses back into some areas, including large swathes of Time Check and the Taylor Area Neighborhood.

The collapse of the zone also allowed Melissa Erlacher, 41, back into her house on the corner of Eighth Street NW and J Avenue NW.

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Standing in front of hundreds of sandbags still piled high around her house, Erlacher said she’s dreading the mess of moving back in.

But after the flood of 2008, when she said she lost everything, she’s grateful the precautions taken weren’t needed.

As for the hundreds of leftover sandbags, she’s thinking of building a fort for the children in the neighborhood.

“Isn’t that a good way to recycle?” she said, laughing. “The kids will be safe — they won’t float away.”

In the Taylor Area Neighborhood, two boys played on dry sandbags Wednesday afternoon near N Avenue SW and Eighth Street SW.

Up the block, John Lord, 36, said he took few precautions.

“I wasn’t scared,” he said as he unloaded hand-split firewood into his garage. “Most of my neighbors stayed.”

About 50 percent of people in the evacuation zone, which stretched to areas that would be impacted by a 28-foot crest, complied with the evacuation request, officials said Monday.

The smaller zone includes only areas that would be hit by a 24-foot crest. The river level Wednesday was about 20 feet and is expected to continue to decrease.

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Toni Meyers’ house sits near the revised zone’s boundary at Sixth Avenue SW and Fourth Street SW.

She and her husband never left their house but moved everything except three pieces of furniture into a trailer outside. Already, they’ve moved most of it back inside.

“I had more confidence with everything they did,” Meyers, 59, said, referencing the miles of barriers and berms built in the days before the river’s crest. “If we did see water, all we had to do was connect the trailer to the truck. We were prepared, and I think they were, too.”

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