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Mandatory flood evacuations in Palo force families from homes

Approximately 80 homes evacuated, American Red Cross shelter taking in evacuees

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PALO — Dripping in sweat, Kevin Booth sat on his porch Saturday afternoon to quickly catch his breath.

He’d been clearing his home in Palo of all its contents after a mandatory evacuation was placed on the southeast corner of the city Saturday morning by the Linn County Emergency Management Agency in reaction to the rising Cedar River, which is now expected to crest at 24 feet in Cedar Rapids Tuesday morning.

The evacuation effects approximately 80 homes in the town of about 1,000 people. Nearby residents not under emergency evacuation orders are asked to remain mindful of river conditions and prepare to act if necessary.

The mandate isn’t the only thing that motivated Booth to evacuate, however.

In 2008, the same home flooded just six months after being built, he said. He and his wife, Sue, lost everything.

“After going through that, we’re preparing better this time,” said Amy Bartunek, their daughter. “We’re not taking any chances.”

Volunteers helped the family clear out the entire home, leaving nothing but built-in furniture and unmovable appliances. Even the refrigerator went out the door.

“Obviously, it’s pretty emotional to have to go through this again,” Bartunek said through tears. “It feels like it just happened.”

Across the street, Jason McKinstry, assisted by family and friends, loaded items from his home into multiple U-Haul vans and trailers.

Like the Booth’s, this is his “second go” at a flood, he said. This time, though, he said he’s done.

After losing a different house in 2008, McKinstry hopes to return to the house following the flood, assess and fix the damage, sell it and “move to higher ground,” he said.

Officials and volunteers in Palo and Vinton began sandbagging and erecting HESCO barriers in the past few days. Linn County Emergency Operations Center is staffed and has acquired materials — including HESCO barriers and pumps — to assist in flood management.

The Cedar River is expected to crest in Vinton at 22 feet — 3 feet above major flood level — late Sunday or early Monday.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross has established an emergency shelter at Cedar Hills Community Church, 6455 E. Ave. NW in Cedar Rapids for evacuees.

They have space for about 200 people in the church, but Kara Kelly, regional communications officer with the American Red Cross, doesn’t anticipate they’ll fill it.

“Typically, Iowans find friends and family to stay with because it’s a little more comfortable, but we’re here and ready to help,” she said.

In the event they do need more space, they have additional facilities on standby, she added.

Kelly suggested evacuees bring everything they’ll need for at least one week. The shelter is providing meals, water, cots, blankets and pillows.

“We just hope to give people some home and help when they need it,” she said. “It’s not a situation anyone wants to be in.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8364; elizabeth.zabel@thegazette.com

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

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