Siouxland Recovers from Floods

Jun 26, 2014

Dawn De Wit, of Rock Valley, stands beside a flooded farm field on the outskirts of this town of more than 3,000 residents in northwest Iowa.
Credit Clay Masters / IPR

  Torrential downpours in northwest Iowa caused rivers to swell… floodwaters damaged homes, businesses and farmland.  Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are assessing the area to see if it qualifies for federal help. State officials on Monday said public infrastructure sustained more than $15 million worth of damage in the state.

That doesn’t include homes, businesses and farmland in Rock Valley and other parts of the region that were destroyed.

“We’ve had a few (floods), but nothing remotely close to this,” said Rock Valley Mayor Kevin Van Otterloo.

When the Rock River flooded a third of the people who live in the town of more than 3,000 people had to evacuate their homes. Volunteers from communities around Siouxland showed up o help sandbag.

Dawn De Wit said as she walked down the town’s Main Street on Tuesday afternoon.

Laura Westra, who’s sitting on her front deck cleaning dishes and souvenirs, had five feet of water in her finished basement. 

“A lot of it came through the sewer, the toilet was running over all the time,” Westra said.

Westra, like most in the town, doesn’t have flood insurance. Employees at Rock Valley Christian watched Westra’s neighborhood fill up and move towards their school.

“We have a next door neighbor here, as we’re praying that the flood waters don’t take our school,” said Rock Valley Christian Principal Brad Vis. “He’s unloading his main floor, it’s like how does this work? How does this make sense? And it doesn’t.”

All the floodwater that collects in these rivers up here makes its way south to Sioux City.

“Woodbury County tends to get a lot of the water from the north,” said Woodbury County Emergency Services Director Gary Brown. “The hills turn into the flatland down here. So we’re kind of at the bottom of the drain so to speak.”

This was the worst flooding to hit the region since 2011 when the Missouri River stayed high for months. Brown said weather patterns are changing.

“What we need is these weather systems to not park. What we saw last week were weather systems that just literally got here and continued to develop and redevelop on top of themselves,” Brown said. “We had one thunderstorm west of Sioux City that stayed in one spot for three hours. It dumped over 6 inches of rain in one spot and had a tornado inside of it most of that three hours.”

Brown said every hour the area stays dry is an extra amount of rain the region can take on the next time storm clouds roll in. But with forecasters estimating a cooler and wetter summer, this kind of weather pattern could be here to stay.