116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
INDEPENDENCE, Iowa — “You just have to be ready for it,” Bob Hocken shouted from his front lawn.
Surrounded by floodwater, Hocken’s house sits on the banks of the Wapsipinicon River in Independence, a Buchanan County city of 6,000 in northeast Iowa.
The Wapsi crested Tuesday night at 14.75 feet — 2.75 feet above flood stage — leaving its banks and turning Hocken’s property into an island.
“I guess you don’t have to leave the state to own your own island,” he joked.
Hocken, who’s lived in his house 45 years, said flooding is something you deal with if you’re going to live near a river, he said.
“We were ready for it,” he said. “We knew it was coming. We’ve been through it many times before. You just have to be prepared.”
The flooding came after 10 to 15 inches of rain fell across north-central Iowa, causing the Turkey and Wapsipinicon rivers to swell, according to the National Weather Service.
The Turkey River at Elkader crested Monday at 22.79 feet — roughly 3 feet above major flood stage — but by Tuesday morning had fallen to a normal level.
Floodwaters reached businesses along the river, as well as a baseball field and a playground in Elkader, with damage to a recreational trail, Iowa Public Radio reported.
No major damage
Independence City Manager Al Roder told The Gazette he hasn’t received any reports of flood damage to businesses or homes.
“The water is still receding, and we’re still taking inventory of what’s going on, but we had enough notice, and anything that might have been in that area was addressed before the flood got here,” he said.
The preparation mostly meant moving equipment and picnic tables out of the parks near the river and having barricades ready to block streets near the river. The city also warned those camping near the river they needed to be ready to move out quickly.
“Really, with all the preparation and the planning and the flood mitigation that’s happened over the last 20 years, now when it floods, the water looks impressive and it gets into our parks and on some of our streets down by the river, but it really has a minimal impact on property,” he said.
“I don’t want to minimize the flooding because every flood event is an event,” he added. “But really, as long as we don’t get above 17 feet, it’s not much of an event because of everything that we have in place is geared to address those lower-level floods.”
Independence was hit with a “500-year flood” in 1999.
Following that flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency bought around 90 houses along the river, and the land was converted into green spaces, Roder said.
“So a vast majority of the properties we would be concerned about during a flood event, have already been eliminated,” he said.
Living near the river
Hocken remembers that 1999 flood well, saying his house “took a lot of damage.”
Many of his neighbors sold their homes to FEMA after that flood, but Hocken stayed and rebuilt.
“We moved the house in from the river a little bit, raised it up, and the lower level — we can’t call it a basement, so we call it an enclosement — is concrete, so if water comes in, all we have to do is hose it out once the floodwater recedes,” he said. “It’s really pretty simple.”
Hocken said he’s never considered moving.
“My children grew up here,” he said. “And we have a riverfront view. We’re not going anywhere.”
Hocken’s neighbor, Marilyn Summers, has lived in her home 35 years.
“It seems like we see flooding every few years now,” she said, though the Wapsi stopped at the sidewalk in front of her home this time.
”Even in the 500-year flood, the water never got into the house,“ she said. ”It stopped at the top step of the porch and got into the basement and that was it.“
Independence remains under a flood warning until Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service, but Roder, the city manager, said the worst is likely over.
“Obviously, we are watching the river gauges and the weather forecasts and those for the areas north of us closely, and if there is any additional rainfall, we’ll watch for that,” he said.
“The place where it could get dicey for us is if we got a large amount of rainfall upstream between now and next week when the land is already saturated,” he added.
“But in the forecast right now, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have a major rain event, so I’m not too worried. But again, we are watching it, and we will continue to watch it closely.”
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