Saturday, June 14, 2008



(June 14, Hills, IA) There is often a disorienting incongruity associated with catastrophe. One of the most vivid recent examples was September 11, 2001 in New York City. It was a gorgeous day and the weather remained magnificent as the daunting tasks of the recovery got under way. It was hard to believe while standing in those 16 acres of heaping, smoldering destruction and death that the weather was perfect.

Here, in this small community south of Iowa City the incongruity is similar. The skies are clear with an occasionally wispy, cotton white cloud drifting by. The sun shines, the humidity is low, and the winds are minimal. Yet, activity abounds and it is not recreational. The whine and growl of various types of heavy equipment is ubiquitous and, from any point in this town a tractor pulling a small trailer loaded with sandbags can be seen. From a high enough altitude it probably appears to be an ant colony dutifully performing their tasks. But, from the ground, no such benign metaphor is apt. There is an ocean of water north of here and soon – nobody can say how soon – it is expected to be here. So, on this gorgeous Saturday in June the folks here and in hundreds of similar communities in the region are diligently engaged in fortifying their town, their homes and lives against the continually rising waters that have inundated the big towns to the north, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

Resources appear to be plentiful; manpower is clearly not an issue. Somehow without a hierarchical authoritarian influence, organization has emerged. This is the textbook manifestation of Chaos Theory: out of chaos, order has emerged. Certainly, there are folks in charge but the operation has taken on a rhythm of its own. Residents and volunteers from neighboring communities just seem to find what needs to be done without asking.

There is a very practical sense to the efforts. Sandbags are filled, loaded onto small trailers, pick up trucks and every other type of vehicle that can be found in a rural farming community. They are hauled out to the dyke that is being constructed and, ever so slowly, the dyke rises. A trench, actually it is more akin to a moat, has been bulldozed north of the dyke which, from that side, gives it the appearance of a primitive, relatively imposing structure. This is it; this is what the folks here will be depending on to deflect what could be a tidal wave of fast moving water as it rushes south. If it doesn’t hold, if the moat fails to shunt enough of the floodwaters east towards the Iowa River, it will certainly not be due to lack of effort.

The one item most notably absent in Hills is information; reliable, valid, practical information. There are just too many variables and no past experiences with a 500 year flood. There was a meeting held in the Hills Community Center last evening and attendance was impressive. The scant factual information provided by the Mayor left most as uncertain afterwards as they were prior to then meeting. “The only reason I went was because I thought there would be someone from the sate or FEMA, somebody who knew what the hell they were talking about”, said one disgusted resident as he climbed back into his sparkling new Ford F-250.

Others expressed the same sentiment. They left the Community Center as the sun began its gentle arc into the west. They were all heading back out to the dyke or to their own places to continue the sandbagging effort. The only information anyone here knows for sure is that water, a good deal of water is poised just to the north and soon will be coming this way.

Special contributor, Gino Fannucci, providing exclusive flood coverage, writing for TBC.

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