Cedar Rapids flood recovery 10 years after 2008 disaster

On June 13, 2008 the Cedar River crested at more than 31 feet and covered more than ten square miles of Cedar Rapids in flood water. It remains one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

In three weeks, the Corridor marks the tenth anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. On Friday the 13th of June 2008 the Cedar River crested at more than 31 feet in Cedar Rapids. The flood waters covered nearly ten square miles and forced more than 10,000 people out of their homes.

Many lost everything they owned and some still shed a tear at the thought of cherished possessions including photos and furniture, soggy, moldy and stacked on the curb, lost forever. While city crews proved they can hold back the river during the flood of 2016 at a cost of nearly $10 million, business owners and residents say without permanent flood protection in the form of levees and walls they still live in fear. Out of seven and a half miles of flood protection planned for both sides of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, so far one-half mile is completed. The Sinclair Levee now protects the NewBo Neighborhood, one of the lowest parts of town which always flooded first. Work on the Czech Village levee is underway now and flood protection for Quaker Oats begins later this summer.

While the heartbreak of lost neighborhoods will never be forgotten, more of the people impacted by the flood are saying it’s finally far enough away in the rear view mirror to admit there are some silver linings. The city’s drinking water system and sewer system are now protected from any future floods. The drainage system can now be shut off at the river to prevent flood waters from backing up into neighborhoods blocks away from the river. The new Central Fire Station is built high and dry, Cedar Rapids has a new state of the art library, the new Federal Building is a shining glass palace and the Double Tree Hotel and US Cellular Center are renovated showplaces. The Czech and Slovak Museum actually got up and moved, it's beautiful chandelier unscathed. There are more restaurants and bars downtown than ever before, hundreds of new lofts and condos now fill once flooded out buildings and The NewBo City Market has become the biggest tourism attraction in town and a hub of new development.

In the end, flood protection for the area is expected to run somewhere north of $600 million. It could take 10 to 15 years and may mean an increase in property taxes to pay for it all, but city council members say that is a last resort. In an agreement with the state, the community is allowed to use a percentage of sales tax growth for levees and walls. If Cedar Rapids continues to grow and recover and attract more tourists, it could mean the entire city will have flood protection without raising the tax levy.

For more information on events planned for the flood anniversary click here.

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