Deluge drains away

Jacob Lane/Anna Anderson · Wednesday, July 9, 2014
It’s been a long and wet week for many in the community, as water levels descend, clean up commences. The city has also gotten involved with efforts.

However, the City of West Liberty does not have flood insurance. This came to light during the council meeting Tuesday, July 1, after the area was severely flooded on June 30.

At some point years ago the city decided it no longer needed the insurance, a decision that went unnoticed for several years.

A minimum of five and a half inches of rain fell in West Liberty on June 30, leaving lawns, basements, parks and roads flooded. It was the worst storm the area has seen in several years.

Unless there's a presidential declaration of a national emergency, all costs of the storm damages to city property will be on the city. City Manager Lawrence McNaul sounded unconvinced that a national emergency would be called.

Considering that it’s been more than a week since the storm has hit, that makes a national emergency even less likely.

However, there was a local declaration after the storm. Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad issued a proclamation of disaster emergency for Muscatine County, as well as Black Hawk, Iowa, Jackson, Johnson and Louisa counties.

The proclamation allows residents to apply for the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program, which provides assistance through the state. According to a press release:

"The program provides up to $5,000 per household to cover repairs, debris removal, furnace or water heater work, replacement of lost or spoiled food and other household losses."

The proclamation also gave the mayors of towns more authority to make decisions regarding the flood.

However, West Liberty didn't have to wait long to discuss its damages and a course of action considering the bimonthly council meeting had already been planned for the following day.

"We know people are going to be needing something from us. A lot of the sewers and back up were things we couldn't handle, but we need to provide a service to them," said City Manager McNaul during the meeting.

A week later, Lori Brooke of PuroClean Disaster Recovery said she's worked fourteen hour days since the downpour on June 30. She said the worst she's seen is six inches of water, still standing. She added that another problem is that after a few days, water damage starts to smell.

Parochial vicar of St. Joseph Church, Gregory Steckel, was eager to move Mass back to the church sanctuary from the parish hall. The parish hall was less "fragrant" than the rest of the church, though Steckel said that the farmers in his congregation didn't notice the smell at all.

Steckel said a comedy of errors led to flooding in the church basement, including a construction project blocking a storm drain and a sump pump set up to drain into the sewer. Steckel estimates $10,000 in damages, which will be covered in part out of pocket and by diocese assistance. He said he hopes insurance will cover the rest.

The City of West Liberty organized a community wide flood clean-up event with curbside pick-up with Muscatine County Emergency Management and the Muscatine County Transfer Station.

Citizens are asked to dispose of flood debris at their curbsides for removal by 7 a.m. on Wednesday, July 9.

The aim is to clean up West Liberty once again. There's also the added benefit of cleaning up the town before the Muscatine County Fair begins on July 16.

The Red Cross also provided flood cleanup kits to several community members around town the days following the city council meeting.

During the council meeting, McNaul took a moment to assess some of the more severely affected areas in town.

"The most significant for us was the pool in Kimberly park, which was completely flooded by storm water and some back up," he said. "They've drained it, they're going to try and recapture where it's at, but it looks like they probably may start over."

The pool was closed for several days after the storm, rain mixed with the pool water and caused levels to rise far above the sides of the pool filling the entire enclosure. The pumps were overwhelmed with dirt and debris and turned off.

On Monday, Parks and Recreation Director Nick Heath said the bottom of the pool had been covered in soil. After draining 130,000 gallons of water, vacuuming four times and testing the pumps, the pool is again clear and blue. The pool was set to reopen on Monday afternoon.

Another heavily flooded area included Wapsie Park. The diamonds were submerged under water while some of the fencing fell over. The park is usually the first to flood during a bad storm since it's in a lower portion of town.

Heath said Wapsie park was completely covered in water. The deluge washed out the limestone from the baseball field and took down the backstop fence. He estimates repairs will cost $8000. The fence alone will cost $6000 to replace.

The flood water carried over onto Highway 6 exiting the eastern part of town. Another easily flooded area, traffic was cut off from passing through the next day.

Somewhat surprising was Highway 6 exiting West Liberty to the west. The Wapsinicon Creek rose over the highway's bridge a few miles out of town, cutting off traffic from that way as well.

During the meeting council member Ethan Anderson raised concern from a community member about the city's storm drain system backing up two years in a row.

The system also backed up last year during a large storm that occurred in late June that caused flooding in Wapsie Park; however, it was nowhere near the same caliber as the storm that struck June 30, 2014.

West Liberty's storm system backed up once again on June 30. Anderson wondered if anything can be done to the system to prevent back up.

However, Mayor Hartman and City Manager Lawrence McNaul both stated that when receiving so much rain over a short period of time there's little that can be done to prevent back up.

After last year's flooding, City Engineer Leo Foley explained that the city system wasn't built to handle such significant rainfall, adding that many other cities experience the same problem during heavy rains.

"Thankfully it stopped raining," Ethan Anderson said. Anderson's basement flooded with four feet of water, overwhelming four pumps. Help came in a roundabout way from Seattle, where a cousin of Ethan's wife, Bethany, has a friend whose brother lives in West Liberty.

This brother of a friend of a cousin, Tony Solomon, brought an industrial pump which turned the tide. Anderson said the water would otherwise have reached the floorboards of the first floor of his house.
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