Monday, June 15, 2009

Coming back

One year ago the Cedar River hit us with a 5 point move – threw us right to our backs.

The numbers were staggering – over 20,000 residents displaced and hundreds of businesses closed. In terms of financial loss, the Cedar Rapids flood of 2008 is the fifth worst disaster in American history (source: Iowa Public Television documentary, City Under Water). Numbers, however, can sometimes be meaningless. But, there’s no ignoring what happened to my friend Terrance and his family (his mother, 2 brothers and little sister) or my friend Jamie, her husband and 4 kids – they lost everything. Taylor School, where my wife and daughter worked for years (and where I volunteered) was declared a loss.

Somewhere along the line we fought off our backs and we’ve started our comeback. According to the latest reports, over 450 flood-impacted businesses have reopened. My friend Jamie and her family found a new home within weeks of being displaced and almost immediately started helping other flood victims. The Taylor School families refused to let their school die and it is scheduled to re-open this fall and my daughter, Emily, will be returning.

Make no mistake – we still have a long fight left. Depending upon whose report you read – once you add up all the money promised us by the state of Iowa and the federal government, we’re going to fall somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion short of full recovery. As you drive through the Taylor neighborhood you’ll still see flood debris piled at the curve – a tragic reminder of lives forever transformed. Dozens of businesses are gone. Terrance’s family is one of over 150 still living in FEMA trailers.

I’ve learned a lot about the strength and goodness of people in the past 12 months. At our darkest hour, when faced with the closing of our last well – and thus the loss of our last source of drinking water – the call went out for 800 volunteer sandbaggers. Over 2,000 showed up. Officers from the Saint Paul, MN police department worked tirelessly to help people they didn’t even know. Church groups came from all over the country and pitched in. The Americorps volunteers became like family to many of the victims.

You in the wrestling family have also made a difference. After I wrote about Terrance’s losses I started to get emails, “Can I send you money to help Terrance?” I started to get checks and money orders. You all helped his family start over with new kitchen furniture, dishes, towels, glasses, clothes and silverware.

Cedar Rapids hosted the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships just 3 months ago. I’ve heard a number of stories from recovering flood victim business owners about the kindness and generosity of the DIII fans who were here. Thank you.

As hard as we’re fighting – we still need your help. You can make an online donation to The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation flood relief funds. A simple way to help is to eat more Quaker Oatmeal – or Cap’n Crunch – or Aunt Jemima Syrup – or Fruit Roll Ups. All are made in Cedar Rapids. You can also just come here and stay for a couple of days and watch wrestling – the Iowa State High School dual meet championships will be here in February and the Division III Championships will once again be held here. Come join us.

I leave you with a video of one of my all-time favorite wrestling comebacks. Fittingly, it features a Cedar Rapids native. This is how I see us battling back.

(Video provided by and reproduced with the permission of Iowa Public Television.)

No comments: