ELKADER — Elkader residents were filled with relief Friday when the Turkey River crested there about 4 1/2 feet lower than expected and sandbags piled high to protect downtown held.
The river was expected to crest at 27 feet. But at noon, it measured about 22 feet, according to the National Weather Service, which was still well above the flood stage of 12 feet.
“A lot of relief,” Mayor Josh Pope said. “A lot of businesses were only holding up a little bit of water in their basements. That’s huge. We’re all very thankful.”
Though water did not breach sandbag walls downtown, Turkey River Park, High Street and land around the south side was under water.
Pope said he does not know yet how many homes and businesses sustained flood damage.
Water pushed up the back sides of some of the businesses along Main Street, and about 20 buildings along the riverfront still were without power later Friday morning. Generators were being used to push water out of businesses.
The power was shut off downtown Thursday as a precaution.
Paul Olson, owner of Olson Appliance on Main Street, said he is accustomed to flooding there.
Merchants, city officials and volunteers make flood management work like a well-oiled machine, he said.
Olson said he has had half an inch of water in the basement of his business more than 20 times. In 2008, he said the water came up more than 2 feet on the second floor.
He had time to prepare for this flood and was able to move all of the appliances into neighbors’ and relatives’ garages our trailers. But he’ll have to clean out and bleach the basement.
In 2008, the Turkey River crested at 27.7 feet, higher than the levee.
That residents knew this time that the high water that earlier flooded out homes upstream was going to push downstream helped the city prepare, Pope said.
“We’ve been through this now a couple of times; 2008 was our big one,” Pope said, “so we kind of knew how to gauge it.”
Earlier this week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources fishery staff moved about 150,000 rainbow and brook trout from Big Spring Hatchery on the banks of the Turkey River near Elkader into fisheries in Decorah and Manchester as a precaution, according to a news release.
Friday, after issuing a disaster proclamation for Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette, Howard and Winneshiek counties, Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Homeland Security Director Mark Schouten toured Winneshiek County to survey flood damage there.
In Garber, 11 miles south of Elkader, the Turkey River was forecast to crest at 28 feet by early Friday evening. But by early afternoon residents already were putting sandbags in storage when forecasts dropped to a prediction of a 24-foot crest.
The sandbags will wait until “this happens again,” said Garber native Tanner Bolsinger, 18.
Flood preparation is also nothing new for longtime Garber residents. They know a crest of 24 feet on the Turkey River will flood only cornfields surrounding the town. They can still point to the spot on buildings where waters rose in past floods.
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Indeed, flooding was contained to cornfields around the Turkey River on Friday afternoon. The Anchor Inn, the only business left in town, had sandbags surrounding it.
Bolsinger, who now lives in Edgewood, said people from neighboring cities helped Garber residents sandbag until midnight Thursday.
“Everybody’s come together,” he said. “If it comes, it comes. We repair or we rebuild. We always come back. It hasn’t got us quite yet.”