Before the flood and after the flood: That is the demarcation that defines life in Cedar Rapids today. Much of what existed before the river swelled 20 feet above flood stage is gone for good. Cedar Rapids’ citizens are gradually abandoning the idea that their city will ever be the same.
More than 2,000 homes in the flood plain likely will never be rebuilt. The Summit View mobile home park on the west side of town is one of several swelling with flood refugees who are moving in, probably for good.
A district of warehouses, offices and small manufacturers along the riverbank likely will lose many of the 818 businesses that flooded. A fragile economic revival, rare for a rural Midwestern city the size of Cedar Rapids (population 120,000), is at risk.
And all the while, Cedar Rapids knows that it will be competing for state and federal funds with dozens of other Iowa towns and cities that also were flooded.
The wait for information unnerves homeowners. Debbie Benson spent a hot morning last week tearing down walls and removing debris from her 88-year-old mother’s home, which flooded up to the second floor.
“Nobody can move back in here,” said Benson, waving her arm at a neighborhood in which each house is fronted by a parkway overflowing with waterlogged furniture, demolished plaster, toys, appliances and the detritus of life.
Flooded residents are complaining that information about buyouts and relief programs is slow in coming. Across the street from Benson, a neighbor has spray-painted across the siding of his home his frustration at the deliberate progress: “To: Cedar Rapids City Council & Mayor: Let us Move On.”
The neighbor scrawled out other beefs too, against the gawkers and looters who followed the receding waters.
“This is Still My Home. Stay Out,” was scrawled across the front of his screened-in porch. And, on the garage door: “Where’s the Police When You Need Them?”
At times, crowds of flood tourists were so large that residents could not get to the parkways to dump the ruined contents of their homes.
A few nights ago, looters stripped parts from a sports car that sat in the neighbor’s garage—perhaps prompting the spray-painting spree.
To all the ports of call and all the ships at sea: AMERICA IS UNMERCIFULLY FUCKED, PLEASE SEND SHOVELS.