These are a couple of pictures I snapped from atop the Crowne Plaza Hotel on June 12, 2008. The top one shows floodwater inundating Quaker Oats and the second shows the Cedar River just starting to flood Third Street SE downtown.
The last big wave of heavy rain that morning was about to hit. Video journalist Mike Barnes, who lost his job last winter, and I were on the roof until lightning chased us back inside.
We had climbed 15 floors in a dark, stuffy stairwell, guided by little flashlights, to get to the roof. The hotel, like everything else downtown, had lost power. (I wrote my Sunday column on a legal pad and later bought a laptop at Best Buy to type it up) Mike was lugging a big pack of video equipment, so he had it far worse than I did.
What we saw from the roof was the Cedar River swallowing the heart of the city block by block. We watched for a while as Mike shot video and then climbed back down to the street.
Then the rain hit. But the downpour didn’t stop people, mostly kids, from trying to get a closer look.
There was a cop stationed at 1st Ave. SE and 3rd Street SE, playing matador with his cruiser. People would try to drive in or walk in, and he would block them with his car. At one point, some kids tried to get past him and he shouted, “Get the hell out of here or you’re going straight to Anamosa.” That seemed to get their attention, and they retreated, grumbling.
The cop let some cars in, people who owned businesses that were about to be flooded. A few SUVs and cars pulled up onto the sidewalk, people jumped out, went inside and began carrying out whatever they could. The water was coming up fast, so they didn’t stay long.
The other thing I’ll always remember is the sound the manhole covers made when they were blown out of position by the flooding storm sewers. When they hit the pavement it sounded like bells ringing. Water bubbled up through the holes like volcanic lava.
My cell phone was also ringing. It was my kids’ daycare in Marion, telling me they were about to close. Indian Creek was rising and they weren’t sure the road to the facility was going to stay open. My wife was in Iowa City, unsure she’d be able to get home, so I had to go get the kids.
I walked back to the paper. While I was at the Crowne Plaza they had piled sandbags around the front door. I couldn’t get my mind around the fact that they actually thought the water would get that far.
I jumped into my car, turned east onto 1st Ave. and looked in my rear view mirror back toward downtown one more time.