Independence, other Wapsipinicon River towns brace for historic flooding

Wapsi expected to crest at all-time high of 24 feet this afternoon

UPDATE: Residents and business owners in the Buchanan County city of Independence are preparing for flooding the likes of which has never been seen here.

The Wapsipinicon River, which bisects the community, was expected to crest at 24 feet by Wednesday afternoon. The previous record high for the river at Independence was 22.35 feet, set in 1999.

“This will be a historic level for us, beyond anything we've had in the past,” said Charlie McCardle, commission secretary for Buchanan County Emergency Management.

McCardle said the storm that moved through Eastern Iowa Tuesday night into Wednesday morning dropped 4.5 to 6.1 inches of rain. By 10 a.m., the Wapsipinicon River had already breached its banks and was expected to inundate areas along the river.

Buchanan County officials don't know at this time how many homes and businesses will be affected by the flood.





“We have no estimate at this time,” McCardle said.

Bob Hocker's home at Third Street NW in Independence will undoubtedly taken on water should the river continue to rise. His back door is less than 20 feet from the river's banks, but after 37 years in his home, Hocker has no intentions of leaving. Hocker's home flooded in 1999, as well.

"In 1999, we had three inches of water over our kitchen counter," he said.

Rather than move, Hocker simply raised the house. With the plumbing, electrical and other utilities on the second floor and a cement slab basement for the first floor, Hocker isn't too concerned about flooding.

"We're going to get flooded; we will," he said. "We designed it to flood. It's all concrete. We'll just wash it out."

Dennis Prinsen lives in Manchester, but is a partner with Gosling & Company, which has an office on First Street in Independence. The office is several hundred feet from the river, but Prinsen and others were building a small sandbag wall around the business. It nearly flooded in 1999, Prinsen said.

“That time, it was right on our doorstep,” Prinsen said.

For Dennis McGlaughlin, of Decorah, it's not if the two properties near the river his father owns will flood, but how much. McGlaughlin said his father is in a care center; so he and some friends are clearing out his home and the neighboring property.

“We're emptying the whole house,” McGlaughlin said. “There was fish in the basement of the house last time.”

McGlaughlin's friends, Michelle and Joel Dinger, of Independence, said they can recall flooding in 2011 that closed the bridges over the Wapsipinicon and shut down roads leading into the community. Highway 150 into Independence is already closed.

Michelle Dinger said when the roads close, Independence is essentially shut off until they reopen.

“You're not going anywhere,” she said.

While the Dingers said they were only experiencing some minor flooding at their residence, they still were keeping an eye on the river levels. The couple lives on the other side of the river.

“We're going to have to be on the other side of the bridge or we're not going to get home,” she said.

McCardle said no mandatory evacuations have been ordered, but residents are asked to keep an eye on the river. He also suggested that anyone new to the area since 1999 ask their neighbors about what to expect in terms of flooding in their neighborhood.

With no past experience to go on, McCardle said county officials will have to use their best judgment in responding to this historic flood.

“We have no guidelines to go on,” he said.

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