Elkader prepares for worse flooding
Farther north, residents go back home and find soaked floors and ruined keepsakes
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ELKADER — With the Turkey River expected to crest Friday morning at a whopping 27 feet — 15 feet above flood stage — merchants Thursday moved vulnerable equipment and volunteers piled sandbags high in an effort to spare downtown from the worst.
Farther upstream, as floodwaters from the Upper Iowa and the Turkey rivers begin to recede north of Clayton County, residents in Winneshiek County returned home to access the damage and pick up the pieces.
Gov. Terry Branstad issued a disaster proclamation for five northeast Iowa counties, and his office announced he and other officials would be there Friday to survey the damage.
There is much to see.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported that six northeast Iowa wastewater treatments plants — including Decorah’s — are completely or partially covered with floodwater.
“Aside from the obvious high water dangers, people should avoid contact with floodwaters because of potential contamination from wastewater, chemicals, petroleum products and other materials washed into the waters.” Clark Ott of the DNR’s Manchester field office said.
Homeowners allowed to go back to their flooded houses discovered mud spread across floors, furniture saturated and keepsakes destroyed.
In Elkader, Frederique Boudouani’s business, Abu Nawas Beverage Company, is threatened by the rising waters.
He and Brian Bruening, who owns Schera’s Algerian American Restaurant, worked Wednesday and Thursday to move the infrastructure of the business from the basement, including the furnace, the heater and the water softener.
Boudouani’s building — along with every building on S. Main Street — had electricity cut off in preparation.
“It’s always disheartening to have to go through this again,” Boudouani said. The massive flood of 2008 “almost knocked us out.”
Boudouani said the one thing that kept him going is seeing the community come together.
And it did come together Thursday to erect a sandbag wall that stands at the end of S. Main Street.
Volunteers were attempting to build it higher than the 2008 flood levels, which reached a record 27 feet.
Jeff Seago, a fireman with the Elkader Fire Department, said volunteers had been working on the wall since noon.
Kurt Wehrle, a mechanical engineer at Caterpillar Elkader, said his supervisor let employees off early to help.
Central Community School District dismissed students and employees at 12:30 p.m. Thursday to “save our town,” said Jolene Christeleit, a teacher associate.
But for most residents and business owners, it’s a waiting game. The crest is forecast for 7 a.m.
Heavy rains Tuesday night and Wednesday morning caused a flash flood in the Winneshiek County area that has displaced dozens and caused widespread damage.
Residents of Freeport, east of Decorah, were let back home Thursday by emergency services.
A lengthy cleanup process began for those who weren’t impeded by remaining water, but the shock may not have worn off for some.
“I don’t think people quite understand,” said Peggy Lensing, who with her husband, Buzz Lensing, are from Freeport.
About 3 feet of water entered the main floor of their house on Golf View Road, destroying furniture and appliances and leaving a coat of mud.
Erin Golly, who lives up the street from the Lensings, was dealing with 4 feet of water that entered her basement.
“We’re in cleaning and recovery mode,” Golly said. “We’re just trying to get everything done.”
Golly and family members spent Thursday cleaning items damaged in the flood, while others began ripping up carpet.
She said about a third of their belongings stored in the basement had to be thrown away — including family photographs and her two daughters’ baby blankets.
“I just broke down about that last night,” she said.
Golly said she and her family plan to rebuild.
The Lensings said they most likely are going to rebuild as well, since the location fulfills a long-term goal for Buzz.
Buzz Lensing said he had always wanted to retire and live by a golf course. Their house on Golf View Road, which they’ve owned since 2012, sits right next to Oneota Golf and Country Club.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. “I still want to live my dream.”
The Winneshiek County Medical Center stocked up on immunizations, said Katy Swift, a registered nurse there.
Hospital officials say they have seen an increase in people coming in for tetanus shots.
Dave Rooney, administrator of operations, said the center has not seen a significant amount of injuries related to flood — yet. Officials and other hospital staff are preparing for a potential influx over the weekend as cleanup continues.
“We feel we’ll be prepared and we have steps in place if we do have a surge,” Rooney said.