Downtown Cedar Rapids businesses prepare for flooding

Early notice helping many with protection work

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CEDAR RAPIDS — For the second time in eight years, Linda McConnell is getting ready for a flood.

The owner of Basket Bowtique was hit by the floods of 2008 at her old location in the former Coventry Gardens Mall, in the 200 block of First Avenue SE downtown. But after working a few years working out of Hiawatha, McConnell said she was drawn back to downtown five years ago.

Now, the rising Cedar River is forcing her out of her store again.

“I really didn’t think I’d have to deal with this again,” McConnell said, as her husband and others loaded a minivan with merchandise from the story. “It’s unfortunate I’ve got to deal with this again.”

McConnell was not alone. Businesses big and small along the river downtown were making preparations Friday to contend with an expected river crest of 24.1 feet by Monday evening. Crews filling sandbags dotted the sidewalks along First Street SE. A wall was being erected around the Alliant Tower.

As with other downtown businesses, Duane Smith, chief executive officer of TrueNorth, said lessons learned after the 2008 floods were being applied Friday.

“We, and a lot of our clients, were caught off-guard in 2008,” Smith said. “As a result of that, TrueNorth put together a disaster recovery plan that was much tighter than the one before.”

Furniture, artwork, plants and other items were being moved to the building’s second floor. Sandbagging efforts already were underway before 11 a.m., and some 6,000 sandbags were to be used to fortify the building.

Smith said the insurance agency’s servers are located off-site and would not be affected by flooding.

“We can run indefinitely on a remote basis,” Smith said, though he hopes to be out of the building no more than three to four days.

Jeff Janssen, vice present of sales and marketing at ImOn Communications — located in the Great America Building on First Street SE — said flood plans include moving about 60 employees to a warehouse out of the flood zone, where operations would continue.

Janssen said at 22 feet, water would reach the front door of the building. Sandbagging will take place around the building, he said.

“Anything after 22 feet, the sandbags would be the only hope for keeping water out of the building,” he said.

ImOn moved into the Great America Building in 2007 and was displaced for six months following the flood. He said they are preparing for similar circumstances should water enter the building again.

“If it’s an inch of water, it’s one thing,” he said. “But, is one foot of water any different than seven feet?”

At the Bistro on the River, owner Brittany Hannah and her employees were moving anything they could off the first flood to the second level. She said they are closed for business after their water heater was shut down.

While she was hoping for the best as the river continued to rise, Hannah said she’s also preparing for the worst.

“We’re going into worst-case-scenario mode,” she said.

Elsewhere in Cedar Rapids, Ingredion’s corporate communications director said the facility is implementing its comprehensive flood preparation plan.

Mercy Medical Center, which experienced flooding in 2008 and even had to move patients over to UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital, is following a protection plan developed after 2008.

“Because the exact crest is unknown, the team is taking extra precautions,” said Karen Vander Sanden, a hospital spokeswoman. “Pumps are being tested near the emergency department, and a temporary sand-filled flood barrier is being set up around the hospital.”

The hospital has taken extra measures to protect itself and patients from floodwaters since 2008, including flood gates on the ground level, new enhancements to the infrastructure of the drainage system and a new plan for deploying pumps.

Cargill Inc. is scheduled to be closed through Wednesday, trade sources told Reuters. Corn deliveries were stopped due to flooding. The company still is buying soybeans and will reassess its closure on Monday, Reuters said.

Tim Jensen, managing director for the Independence-based Jensen Transport Inc., said the company — which hauls food-grade commodities — is assisting both Cargill and PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats.

“In order to keep those businesses afloat ... we are going through and loading all of the equipment we can with the products we normally haul on a normal basis.” Jensen said.

Jensen said the raw food materials will be shipped to food manufacturing plants in the Midwest and beyond.

Union Pacific Railroad’s website reported it is working to reposition equipment in the two yards it has near downtown Cedar Rapids that will in the path of anticipated flooding and traffic through there is being rerouted. Customers with freight in the area should expect 48- to 72-hour delays.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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

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