Cedar Rapids Mayor: 'Welcome home'

Flood zone to be reopened to impacted residents, businesses Friday; general public on Saturday

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CEDAR RIVER — The end of the Flood of 2016 is in sight.

Beginning at noon on Friday, all flood-impacted residents and businesses are to be allowed back into the evacuation zone for flood recovery activities. At 7 a.m. Saturday, the entire zone is being opened to the public.

“To the residents of Cedar Rapids, let me say to you, welcome home,” said Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett at Thursday’s flood briefing at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.

Residents and business owners in a zone represented by a river level of 28 feet were asked to leave the area last Saturday morning. On Wednesday, city officials partially collapsed the flood zone from a 28-foot inundation area to a 24-foot zone, allowing the owners of some 2,500 homes and businesses of the original 6,000 on the evacuation list to return.

“I want to thank all of the people that honored the request for voluntary evacuation,” Corbett said. “Because you trusted in your government, there was less chaos in the evacuation area. We honored our commitment to you. We kept our promise. We said if you move out on Sunday, you’ll be back by Saturday. And you are.”

After cresting at just under 22 feet on Tuesday, the Cedar River has since begun its descent. The river was projected to get below 18 feet on Thursday and below 16 feet — major flood stage — by Friday morning.

Improved river conditions have allowed city officials to begin deconstructing the temporary flood measures erected to keep floodwaters in place. Crews were working on Thursday to begin reopening roadways in the city.

“It took about 48 hours to build the wall that has protected our city,” said City Manager Jeff Pomeranz. “But the deconstruction process is going to be a significant effort by many and it’s going to take some time.”

Public Works Director Jen Winter said the First, Second, Third and Eighth Avenue bridges have been inspected and are to be the first to reopen. The city plans on having the bridges and ramps on and off Interstate 380 open when the flood zone is reopened to the public.

The city’s building inspection staff has begun to survey structures in the flood zone, said Kevin Ciabatti, Building Services director. Ciabatti said a “small number” of structures have sustained water damage or were in standing water. He did not want to disclose the number of residences that have taken on damage.

“A vast majority of the homes never sustained any overland flood damage,” Ciabatti said.

Beginning at 7 a.m. Friday, residents are to be able to take wet or dry sandbags to the parking lot at Noelridge Aquatic Center, 1248 42nd St. NE. On Saturday morning, a second drop-off location is to open at Ellis Park, 2200 Ellis Boulevard NW. Free sandbag pickup is expected to start on Oct. 10 and run for about two weeks, Utilities Director Steve Hershner said.

Businesses and commercial properties are responsible for the collection and disposal of sandbags. Jasmine Almoayed, Economic Development Manager for the city, said the downtown and NewBo self-supported municipal improvement districts plan to partner on sandbag removal and establishing collection sites.

As Cedar Rapids businesses reopen in the coming days, Corbett called on residents to get back into those flood-impacted areas and buy a meal, get a drink or do some retail shopping and “become the stimulus.” He asked citizens to patronize flood zone businesses 10 times in the coming months. For the bicycle community of Cedar Rapids, he asked for 15 visits.

“If you can do that and the citizens can do that, that will provide the economic stimulus to recreate the vibe that we had in our community,” he said. “If you do that, all of these businesses will get back on their feet.”

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

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