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Gov. Reynolds Visits Western Iowa Towns Devastated By Flooding

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visited two western Iowa towns on Sunday to survey the damage from flooding.

Reynolds saw flooded homes and roads in Missouri Valley and Hornick. In Hornick, she toured the home of Dale Ronfeldt. Ronfeldt’s backyard looks like a lake and his basement is flooded in about 4 feet of water.

“My washer and dryer are floating around down there somewhere,” Ronfeldt said.
Ronfeldt, who is on the city council and the volunteer fire department, said his basement was dry when water first leaked into town, up until the moment the city’s sewer system became inundated.

Ordered to evacuate Thursday when officials suspected a levee along the West Fork of the Little Sioux River had been breached, residents of Hornick in Woodbury County were allowed back into their homes for six hours on Sunday to survey their properties. Mayor Scott Mitchell asked people to leave by 8 p.m. as the city worked to restore power.

A notice posted to the city's Facebook page around 10 p.m. Sunday said people will be allowed to return home for good at 8 a.m. Monday, though the city’s sewer system is still not working so they can’t use their toilets, faucets or sinks. MidAmerican Energy will visit peoples’ homes to restore their power. 

Officials initially thought a levee had been breached along the West Fork of the Little Sioux River, flooding areas of the city with at least 3 feet of water. Upon further inspection, city officials said Sunday that water overtopped the levee, but the levee itself is fully intact. 

Reynolds has issued a disaster declaration for 38 counties, which allows state funds and resources to be used to help recover from the flooding that the mix of rain, warm temperatures, snowmelt and frozen ground has caused across western Iowa. 

Through the proclamation, residents can get grants of up to $5,000 depending on their household income, to help repair their homes or cars, or even replace clothing damaged by flooding. 

"My washer and dryer are floating around down there somewhere." -Hornick resident Dale Ronfeldt, talking about his flooded basement.

During a news conference in Sioux City shortly after her visit to Hornick Sunday, Reynolds praised the coordination of the communities that have been dealing with flooding over the last few days.

“Over and over I continue to just be overwhelmed and impressed and grateful to our emergency managers, our EMS, our first responders, our volunteers, just the community as a whole,” Reynolds said.

Before she toured Hornick, Reynolds visited Missouri Valley. Last Wednesday, the city advised 1,000 of the city’s roughly 3,000 people to evacuate when they suspected a nearby creek and river would overflow. Later in the day, they made the evacuation mandatory. The next day, several local levees were breeched and flooding worsened. Fourteen residents had to be rescued from their homes by boats.

The evacuation has since been lifted, but Mayor Shawn Kelly said many basements are still full of water. Around 100 homes south of the railroad tracks are in bad condition and uninhabitable at this time, he said.

“There’s a house down there that looks like the water has pushed the foundation wall in out from underneath the house,” Kelly said, “water damage that goes 3 to 4 feet deep on the main floor of houses.”

He continued, “It was an emotional time seeing all the devastation for all of the families that lost pretty much everything they had.” 

Hornick resident Dale Ronfeldt's garage in water in March 2019. A reporter joked with him that he had "lakefront property" and Ronfeldt joked, "you want to buy some?"
Credit Katie Peikes / IPR
IPR file
Hornick resident Dale Ronfeldt's flooded yard and garage.

When asked about the similarities and differences between the two cities she saw, Reynolds again emphasized how impressed she was with how organized both communities were in handling the flooding and getting people out of town. Both cities still have a lot of standing water, she said. And in both places, the cleanup will take a while.

“It looked like potentially there were more salvageable homes, maybe, in Hornick than in Missouri Valley, but, you know, we’ll have to see, that’s really yet to be determined,” Reynolds told some members of the media in an interview after the news conference.

As for what’s next for Hornick, Mayor Scott Mitchell had one word in mind: “Rebuild!”

“I know there’s some people who probably won’t rebuild. I’m going to stay," Mitchell said. "You know, we’ll rebuild, we’ll go on.”

That’s one of Dale Ronfeldt’s biggest concerns, that people won’t want to come back to Hornick and rebuild.

“We’re going to lose people in the community,” he said, predicting the cost of rebuilding would be a large reason. “…How much money can you throw after a house after you’ve built a house and maintained it?”

Mayor Shawn Kelly of Missouri Valley had a different sentiment on the rebuilding that will need to take place.

“Iowa is a very strong state that has a big drive to try and rebuild and come back,” Kelly said. “Usually we come back stronger than we were before the incident happened.”

Gov. Reynolds continues her tour through flooded parts of Iowa on Monday. She will visit Glenwood, Pacific Junction and Hamburg in southwest Iowa and later in the day, will hold a news conference in Council Bluffs.

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.