116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Eight feet of floodwater nearly tore off a deck and lofted a washer onto a countertop at the Clemann residence on Ellis Boulevard NW.
But what it did to family photographs hurt the most.
“They were smeared and looked ruined,” said Josh Clemann, 28, of Cedar Rapids.
Clemann brought a manila envelope containing about a dozen damaged photos to the African American Museum of Iowa on Friday, hoping volunteers with Operation Photo Rescue could help. The group is in Cedar Rapids through 5 p.m. today, restoring photographs for flood victims.
Area flood victims can have up to 20 photos restored, free of charge. Hundreds of historic photos from the museum, including some that are cracked and discolored, also will be repaired.
Since starting in January 2006 with helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, volunteers with Operation Photo Rescue have restored more than 6,000 photographs.
Rebecca Sell, a former photographer at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., and Dave Ellis, director of photography at the newspaper, started the non-profit, hoping just to make copies of damaged photos. On their first mission, they took two computers and two printers to Pass Christian, Miss., to help Katrina victims.
“We had no idea what we were getting into,” Sell said. “It really struck a chord with people.”
Today, the organization relies on more than 2,000 volunteers around the world. They photograph the pictures on site to create new digital images, then upload those files to a photo-storing Web site. Other volunteers then restore the images using computer software. The new files are reviewed for quality and sent to DigMyPics.com, which prints and mails new photographs to clients, usually in about six to eight months.
“Some of these things that those volunteers can do blow us away,” said Rebecca Sell, co-founder of the organization. “That's how we're able to do it for free.”
Clemann sat at a table Friday morning, hoping the group could do it again. Baby pictures of his father-in-law and school photos of his three young children were submerged in water.
“Hopefully they can bring them back,” Clemann said.