When junior Clayton Besong drove back to his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last spring he had no idea it would be one of the last times he would see the train bridge; a sign he was close to home. The bridge collapsed when the Cedar River rose over 30 feet and flooded several sections of the city.
“I really didn’t think something like this would happen,” said Besong, of the flood. “It’s Iowa, we’re landlocked. That’s why I was in such disbelief.”
Besong remembers hearing there would be a flood, but thought it would only damage the basements of buildings downtown near the river. He had an internship at Mercy Hospital for the summer and learned the water might reach that far.
“I was asked to help sandbag. At that point, I didn’t know how bad it was,” said Besong. He helped sandbag all the entrances to the hospital for six hours.
The next day, Friday, when he drove to the hospital, there was water flooding the street across from it and coming up into the parking lot. He got into the first floor of the hospital and looked out the window, but instead of the usual trees and structures all he could see was water.
“I thought ‘This is kind of freaking me out’,” said Besong. “We were like ‘Oh my god, this is real and we can’t fathom it.’”
Later that day the hospital evacuated all the patients to other hospitals around the area. Besong was told to go home and return to work on Monday wearing jeans. He spent much of his weekend in front of the television, watching the local news coverage as the flood damage worsened.
Images of houses, businesses, and city buildings surrounded by water flashed onto the screen. Besong remembered seeing a Dairy Queen he had gone to only a few weeks earlier completely underwater, except for the top of the sign. He said it was weird to see buildings he was so familiar with, like the Czech Museum, completely under water.
Several people who lived on the Southwest side of Cedar Rapids completely lost their houses to the flood.
“I was feeling sad, kind of depressed, all my sympathies went out to the families,” said Besong. “I tried to find ways to help.”
He spent time sandbagging in preparation for the flood, and afterwards gathered food and supplies with his church for the families that lost their houses.
“I was thankful my family wasn’t affected,” said Besong. “It made me realize what hurricane victims went through.”
The flooding in Cedar Rapids was also covered on several national news stations. Besong said a few professors and friends from Knox e-mailed him to make sure he was doing all right.
“That was comforting,” said Besong. “People knew Cedar Rapids got flooded.”
In addition to the private houses that flooded, City Hall, the Cedar Rapids Public Library, and two theater venues downtown were damaged during the flood.
A few weeks after the water went down, Besong drove through the condemned neighborhoods that had been under water. He saw water lines that were ten feet above street level on the houses.
“A lot of furniture was piled up on the streets. It smelled really bad,” said Besong. “I could not believe what I was driving through.”
He also remembered driving on Highway 30, which was completely flooded over, and after the water went down he saw lines on the trees where the water had been. The leaves on the top were green, but the leaves that had been under water were brown.
Despite their efforts, Mercy Hospital suffered some flood damage.
“The sandbagging barricades we built didn’t help at all,” said Besong.
Besong said the hospital was in the process of constructing a new parking ramp when the flood hit and the hole where it was going to be filled up with water. It took about four days to pump the water out.
When Besong returned to work, he was instructed to move lots of computers around and set them up in usable locations. The hospital brought mobile trailers containing an MRI, CT, and a nuclear medicine trailer from California because all those machines had been on the first floor of the hospital and ruined in the flood. The trailers parked outside of Mercy and enclosed pathways were built so patients did not have to go outside in order to have their tests done.
Besong was planning on working with the system analysts in health software because the hospital was using a new program, but for two to three weeks after the flood, he spent his time with the clean-up and reorganization effort. He finally got to do his regular job in July and August.
Mercy Hospital was able to reopen by the end of June. However, the restoration efforts for the rest of Cedar Rapids continued through the summer and are still part of many people’s everyday lives.
“I hope that the city recovers as soon as possible,” said Besong.