Launch Slideshow

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Chasing the Crest

Chasing the Crest

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    Due to its convenient location, the capped Cedar Rapids-Linn County Landfill Site 1 was reopened to accept flood debris. Photo: Z-Comm/Terex

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    Since wastewater was being discharged directly into the Cedar River, a key focus was on restoring primary treatment to remove suspended solids and floating debris. Sitting right in the middle of the Cedar River, the Veteran's Memorial Building on Mays Island suffered major damage, even to portions above the 500-year floodplain. Photo: Z-Comm

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    Keeping public order was the first priority. The receding waters revealed devastation reaching in excess of 10 square miles. The river reached beyond the 100- and 500-year floodplains to inundate homes and businesses, some to the top of the first floor. Photo: Z-Comm

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    “If you were to extrapolate the numbers in a nonscientific way, this could approximate a 2,000- to 3,000-year flood,” says Cedar Rapids Public Works Director Dave Elgin. Photo: City of Cedar Rapids

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    Slabs of asphalt were stockpiled after water pushed up through sections of some city streets. Photo: Z-Comm/Terex

While the police and fire departments carried out evacuation orders for portions of the city, public works analyzed topographical maps and watched forecasts to determine the next potential round of evacuations. “We also repositioned the pumps out of the flooded areas to the next line of defense,” says Elgin.

Then projections were raised to 19 to 20 feet. Nearly all of the department's 174 employees were placed on 24-hour rotations: 12 hours on the job and 12 off. Sandbagging equipment was deployed as attention focused on the city's levee system. “In general, the levees are built to withstand a 100-year flood, but there are a few low areas around 20 feet,” Hanson says.

Soon after, a third revised crest projection came in — 24.5 feet — rendering the manual obsolete. “All our historical data points go back to a record level of 20 feet, which has only been reached twice,” Elgin says.

City crews quickly employed their own equipment to build earthen dikes to 24.5 feet to protect houses and businesses, only to receive yet another river crest prediction. This time it was 28 feet.

On June 13, the Cedar River finally crested at 31.12 feet, more than 11 feet above the previous record crest and 19 feet above flood stage, discharging water at a rate of 155,000 cubic feet/second — enough water to top the much wider Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa.

EMERGENCY TRAINING PAYS OFF

“The magnitude of this flood and the damage it caused is almost incomprehensible,” says Brian Fagan, at-large Cedar Rapids City Council member and mayor pro tem. It gave city leaders the opportunity to put their National Incident Management System (N.I.M.S) training to practice.

A perimeter around affected areas was established and patrolled by the National Guard while public works crews went about their work. “There were canyons of debris covering the road,” Fagan says.

“We found major sinkholes and foundation damage to homes that we had to address before allowing the public back into flooded areas,” Hanson adds. “There were also 56 inoperable traffic signals and 800 traffic regulation signs destroyed.”

Clearing the streets was just the beginning. Everything that the water touched in the 7,198 effected parcels — 5,390 residential, 1,049 commercial, 486 tax-exempt, 84 industrial, and 51 agricultural — had to be discarded. Houses were stripped to the studs.

All of the city's trucks, loaders, and skidsteers were mobilized to clear debris. Local contractor Manatts Construction Co. donated hauling equipment to the effort, as did the Iowa DOT and Terex Construction Americas, which donated two SKL 873 loaders, two TX 7608 backhoes, two HR 16 mini-excavators, and five Genie TML-40000 light towers.

One of the two loaders went to Cedar Rapids and the other to Palo, a suburb of about 900 residents. Nearly 98% of Palo's 423 homes were flooded, and public works officials there had to rely primarily on donated equipment. “By quickly clearing the debris, we were able to keep the fly, gnat, and mosquito populations at bay, reducing the potential of illness,” says Tom Watson, the town's infrastructure commander.