2008 Flood: Five years later Signs of progress; vivid memories

A new six-acre park, towering limestone bank building and fire station are some of the signs that Elkader is recovering from a devastating flood that five years ago damaged more than two dozen homes and 30 businesses. Though aided by federal dollars, recovery efforts say as much about the people of Elkader as the agencies that assisted the town. “The folks here, they’re the ones that made this happen,” said Mayor Bob Garms. “That’s the thing about this community: We know how to pull together. We’ve done so on many occasions but never more than in 2008.” In a town accustomed to flooding, the 2008 event was the worst in history. A flood wall and levy designed to protect against water levels of up to 27 feet could not hold back the swollen Turkey River. Fifty homes were evacuated in the final hour of June 8. When river crested the following day at 32 feet, homes, businesses and parks on both sides of its banks were heavily damaged. Among the hardest hit was Wilke’s. More than four feet of water raced through the grocery store knocking canned and packaged goods into mud-slicked aisles. Store owners Dave and Becky Wilke, who monitored river levels on the Internet throughout the day, were helping homeowners in the south end of town when they realized their store might be in trouble. “We saw some plastic containers floating down the street and my immediate thought was “This is not going to be good,’” said Dave. A small army of volunteers helped the Wilkes re-open the store in 10 days. Like the Wilkes, Dr. Bruce Landis was assisting with flood control efforts when he realized that his business, Elkader Eye Clinic, was also in harm’s way. “It had never been affected by previous flooding,” he said. “But at 10:30 that night, we knew we’d have to evacuate. With the help of 23 volunteers, we were able to get it done in an hour and a half.” It was three months before Landis was able to return to his office. However, he lost only three-and-a-half days of work. He set up a temporary office at the corner of Bridge and First Streets in space provided rent-free by Adam Pollock. What Landis remembers most about the days and weeks following the 2008 flood are the tireless salvage and clean-up efforts of volunteers. Anticipating water problems in their basement, FreedomBank employees put basement items on tables before leaving work for the day. “When the river continued to rise through the evening, the decision was made to move the critical main computer servers to the vault,” said Kathy Mueller, a bank vice president. “As it turned out, the basement was filled to the ceiling with floodwater and water on the first floor was about four-feet above desk level.” A “bank trailer” was brought in a week later, and employees worked from there until September 2009 when the new bank opened. FreedomBank bought a couple of private residences along First Street, which enabled them to build eight feet higher than their previous site. “I don’t think it’s possible for a man-made structure this close to the Turkey River to be entirely flood-proof,” said Mueller, “but we’ve mitigated our risk of potential flood damage as much as we possibly could. Floodwarters would have to be four feet higher than 2008 to enter the building. Editor’s note: Coverage of the five-year anniversary of the 2008 flood continues next week.

By Pam Reinig, Register Editor

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