Evacuations to begin in Cedar Rapids
Curfew to start at 8 p.m. Sunday
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As the city braces for the Cedar River to crest at about 24 feet early next week, city officials are asking residents in flood-affected areas to evacuate their homes and businesses by 8 p.m. on Sunday.
The evacuations, while not mandatory, are highly recommended and strongly encouraged, said Mayor Ron Corbett during a 10 a.m. news conference on Saturday at the Ice Arena.
“We know it is a very stressful event for someone to leave their home, leave their belongings and walk away,” Corbett said. “Our home is our castle, a sacred place, our sanctuary — and to walk away is difficult.”
Evacuations are a necessary safety precaution, and those who choose to stay in their homes are not only risking their lives, Corbett said, but the lives of emergency crews who will have to rescue them.
“Mayor (Kay) Halloran was able to proclaim in 2008 that there were no fatalities,” Corbett said. “When you look at flooding around the country, not every mayor and community can say that. I hope next week, a week from today, I can stand before the people of Cedar Rapids and proclaim the same, that there were no lives lost.”
Earlier projections were for the Cedar River to crest at 24.5 feet. But the National Weather Service lowered that forecast to 24 feet at 5 p.m. Saturday.
A curfew will be put into effect from 8 p.m. on Sunday until 7 a.m. Monday. Seventy-three check points will be put up throughout areas expected to be affected by the flood. Several hundred Army National Guard members as well as state law enforcement are standing by for additional help.
Some 5,800 parcels are included in the evacuation plan, which covers homes and businesses in areas that could be hit if waters crest at 28 feet. City officials said those impacted should anticipate to be out of their homes and businesses for up to one week until water recedes and inspection teams are able to ensure their is no danger.
To see a list of the area to be evacuated, go to www.cedar-rapids.org.
Cedar Rapids Animal and Control has asked pet owners to use its services only as a last resort. Pet owners evacuating their homes should seek to board pets at animal day cares, veterinary offices or with friends and family to save space for pet owners with no other options, officials said during the news conference.
Alliant Energy plans to keep power on as long as possible. Crews will evaluate on a block-by-block basis, giving advance notice to residents when they can. Home and business owners also can call to request their power be shut off.
Elderly and disabled residents who are evacuating can schedule transportation services and help through Linn County Emergency Management, (319) 892-6500.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter Saturday at Cedar Hills Community Church, 6455 E. Ave. NW. A second shelter tentatively is scheduled to open on Sunday, with more to open as needed.
Individuals may stay at the shelter until they are able to get back in their homes. The shelters can accommodate individuals with special needs, officials added.
City officials have asked residents to stay clear of the downtown area and other affected neighborhoods, including NewBo, Time Check and Czech Village, so that crews are able to get around more easily and work to secure the areas with HESCO barriers, berms and sandbags.
Entrances into downtown closed, including Fifth Street SE and Sixth Street SE, and from First Ave. E to Eighth Ave. SE. Bridges on First, Second and Third Avenues also are closed.
The city is working with Iowa Department of Transportation and will restrict Interstate 380 on and off ramps into downtown.
‘Ready and willing’
Also on Saturday, city and county officials briefed Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and U.S. Rep. Rod Blum on the community’s efforts to mitigate floodwaters.
“We stand here ready and willing to do whatever we can to help in this effort,” Branstad told the Linn County Board of Supervisors.
The supervisors on Saturday unanimously declared a state of emergency for the county, which allows the board access to emergency funds, opens up mutual aid possibilities and the potential for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. The amount would depend on actual damage costs.
Branstad on Friday issued a proclamation of disaster emergency for 13 counties, including Linn, Black Hawk, Buchanan and Cedar. The proclamation allows state resources to be used and activates the Iowa National Guard — something he has not done since 2011.
Branstad said on Saturday while in Cedar Rapids that he learned early on in his tenure as governor to be proactive and assure that assistance is given in a timely fashion.
“In this case, we’re being really proactive and proclaiming a disaster before the water gets here,” he said.
Reynolds said they are receiving updates two to three times a day and will likely be back next week.
“This is never a good situation, but there is a stark difference from 2008, from a preparation standpoint,” she said.
The federal and state officials spoke with Corbett and other city officials in Kingston Village, on the west side of the river and across from the McGrath Amphitheatre. At the same time, city crews were working diligently to put up a temporary barrier in front of the amphitheater.
Blum told Corbett he was impressed by the organization and dedication of city employees and volunteers working together to prepare the city. It was a sentiment echoed through out the day by city leaders and other elected officials.
“Iowans helping Iowans,” Blum said.
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Gazette reporter Mitchell Schmidt contributed to this story.
For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.