Cedar Rapids is my family’s hometown. My mother and father grew up there, and they graduated from Roosevelt and Franklin High Schools. My dad had the honor of serving the people of Cedar Rapids in the United States Congress. My mother’s parents were both local schoolteachers, and my grandfather was very active in the community, and owned a car dealership on Second Avenue, downtown. In addition, both my father and father-in-law worked in the old Federal Building, right on the Cedar River. I have very fond memories as a child running around Bever Park with my cousins, going to basketball camp at Coe College, and having a lot of fun at my aunt’s house, near Brucemore. So, the city will always be home to me.
For that reason, the natural disaster that rocked the city was very personal to me. My heart simply ached for the people whose homes and places of business were destroyed, as 1,300 square blocks of the city were flooded. These were not just bricks and mortar that were underwater — they also represented peoples’ lives — their past, and their hopes for the future. That meant the rebuilding efforts were also very personal to me.
I will always be grateful I was in a position to do something to help people in need of assistance. At that time, even in addition to Cedar Rapids, our state was dealing with the worst disaster in our state’s history. People were suffering from the effects of three tornadoes, and record flooding statewide. Sadly, more than two dozen people lost their lives during the summer of 2008 as a result. So, emergency response and flood recovery became my top priority as governor. In the immediate term, the 4,000 National Guard troops I deployed to the affected areas helped evacuate nearly 40,000 people from the rising waters. We set up the Rebuild Iowa Offices in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, and worked every day to secure the state and federal funds necessary to rebuild our state.
This was a remarkably challenging time for the people of Iowa, and nowhere were peoples’ challenges more evident than in Cedar Rapids. I saw this firsthand during my more than 100 trips to the corridor in the two years after the flood.
But what I also saw in the days and months after the floods was telling. I saw that not even the force of floodwaters could keep the city down. The resilience of the people of Cedar Rapids was greater than the immense difficulties residents and business owners faced. As we moved from response, to recovery, to rebuilding, Cedar Rapids came back. A decade later, we can all see that the city is thriving. Together, we have rebuilt this wonderful city — better, smarter, and even stronger.
As we commemorate the anniversary of the floods of 2008, this example of sheer will and determination by the people of Cedar Rapids in the of face adversity is something I will always carry with me. It is something all Iowans should be proud of, and it is really is the spirit of this amazing city.
• Chet Culver was governor of Iowa from 2007 to 2011.