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Heavy Rains Bring Flooding To Northeast Iowa

The Turkey River at Elkader crested Monday nearly 3 feet above major flood stage and as of Tuesday morning the river is below flood stage at Elkader and Garber.
Frederique Bruening-Boudouani
The Turkey River at Elkader crested Monday nearly 3 feet above major flood stage and, as of Tuesday morning, the river is below flood stage at Elkader and Garber.

Heavy rains from last week in northern Iowa are causing rivers in eastern Iowa to swell quickly. Some river towns have already dealt with flooding over the last couple days, while flood warnings remain in place for other communities.

Around 10 to 15 inches of rain fell across north-central Iowa late last week, according to the National Weather Service. The Wapsipinicon River at Independence is rising and is expected to crest more than 1 foot above moderate flood stage Wednesday. The Wapsipinicon is also expected to crest 0.3 feet above major flood stage near Dewitt early next week.

The Wapsipinicon River near Tripoli crested at a near-record level Sunday morning. The Turkey River at Elkader crested Monday nearly 3 feet above major flood stage and fell quickly. As of Tuesday morning, the river was back below flood stage at Elkader and Garber.

“We’re just kind of amazed at how fast [the river] went back down and grateful it didn’t crest at 24 feet,” said Elkader City Administrator and Clerk Jennifer Cowsert in a Tuesday interview. “Hopefully that’s the last for the season. In 2016 we had a flood in August and September, so hopefully we don’t have any more this year.”

Floodwaters reached businesses near the river, a baseball field and a playground in Elkader. The city has reopened two streets that it had closed prior to the flooding. Cowsert said the city’s public works director has started documenting the damage to public property. There is damage to a recreational trail and areas along the riverbanks where they’ll have to do some projects to keep them from eroding further.

“I think most of the businesses have gone through this before and they know what to do to clean up their basements,” Cowsert said. “The fire department helps them with that … from the business aspect, they’ll just be working on that for the next couple weeks probably, getting things totally back to normal.”

Brian Bruening-Boudouani is one of the business owners who was impacted. He owns Schera’s, a restaurant in Elkader right on the Turkey River that specializes in Algerian and American cuisine. He lives above the restaurant with his husband, Frederique. They had to move some heavy items like a water heater and a furnace from the basement into the restaurant to avoid damage. Their basement flooded with about 3 feet of water, which they pumped out Monday and overnight into Tuesday. As of Tuesday afternoon, their power and natural gas have been restored. Brian said Monday that the restaurant will be closed for 10 days and they have lots of work to do.

“We’re going to have to completely basically re-order all of our vegetables and meats and stuff like that,” Brian Bruening-Boudouani said. “Even though they weren’t directly spoiled by floodwaters getting in, time is not your friend.”

Frederique Bruening-Boudouani said as he looked around the restaurant at the various items moved up from the basement he was “mentally preparing for all the work that has to happen” to put it back together.

“It's like this incredible jigsaw puzzle that … in a way it screws with your mind both ways because you have to take it all out and ‘oh but now it's done’," Frederique said. “You have to clean it all up and sanitize that basement because river water is really nasty, for lack of a better term.”

The pair said they’ve been through quite a few floods – 2008, 2010, 2011, 2014, twice in 2016 and now this year.

“I kind of have a love-hate relationship with the Turkey River,” Frederique said. “I love living by it, but when it’s doing this it’s my least favorite Elkader pastime.”

The Bruening-Boudouanis and Cowsert said they felt lucky the area has been in a drought. The river had been low and it appears the drought may have lessened the severity of the flooding. National Weather Service meteorologist David Sheets said the drought probably prevented the possibility of extreme flooding, but it’s tough to know for sure.

“The ground was very dry, so it may have absorbed more of that heavy rain than if we were wet to begin with,” Sheets said. “It may have reduced the effects of the heavy rainfall on flooding somewhat.”

Sheets added it’s a “pretty rare event” to go from a drought into 10 to 15 inches of rain over the course of a couple days.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.