Even as water rises, residents resist leaving beloved neighborhoods

“They will carry me out of here kicking and screaming”

Officer Mebus with the Iowa City Police Department hands out voluntary evacuation notices in the 800 block of Normandy D
Officer Mebus with the Iowa City Police Department hands out voluntary evacuation notices in the 800 block of Normandy Drive as floodwater from the Iowa River continues to rise Sunday, June 2, 2013 in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

Donna McCann stood in her kitchen and tended to a pot of stew cooking on the stove Sunday afternoon as the teeming Iowa River rushed by just feet from her back door. McCann admitted she has a suitcase packed and ready but leaving won’t be easy.

“They will carry me out of here kicking and screaming,” she said.

The 81-year-old has lived in her home on Normandy Drive since 1970 and witnessed the major floods of 1993 and in 2008, which severely damaged her home. Refusing to let rising floodwaters scare her away, volunteers stepped in to build a wall of sandbags about three feet high around her home.

Randy Lytle, one of the 20 volunteers helping secure McCann’s home, said he knows what it’s like to need help and helping McCann is “payback” for the volunteers who helped sandbag his own business in 2008.

“You have to think about what this woman went through in 2008,” he said.

Patti Fields, vice president for community impact for United Way of Johnson County, said the number of volunteers has continually increased over the weekend and so far, 650 volunteers have pitched in to help fill and sling sandbags since United Way’s Disaster Call Center started receiving requests for assistance on May 27.

Fields said the center received calls from residents in Normandy Drive, Idyllwild neighborhood, and businesses along South Riverside Drive.

Although the rain has subsided and officials no longer anticipate the Coralville Lake will go over its emergency spillway, some neighborhoods are still at risk. On Sunday, Iowa City officials asked residents in three homes on Normandy Drive and nine on Taft Speedway to voluntarily leave their homes because of concerns the floodwaters could make it difficult for emergency personnel to respond to their homes. The three homes are 841,833, and Drew Dillman’s home at 845 Normandy Drive.

Following the 2008 flood, homeowners along Normandy Drive in the Parkview Terrace neighborhood were offered buyouts from the city. Though many did take up the offer, residents like McCann and Drew Dillman said they enjoy the area too much to pick up and move elsewhere.

Dillman calls his home a “little peninsula” as a 10-foot patch of grass stands between his deck and the Iowa River that threatens to join with the flooded road in front of his home.

The 64-year-old said after experiencing the 1993 and 2008 floods, people have told him he’s crazy to come back and rebuild after his home was damaged only five years ago.“I agree with them,” Dillman said, laughing as he looked out at the water lapping the edge of his driveway and the sandbagging underway across the street. “I have frequently said three strikes and you’re out. But I’m going to stay anyway.”

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