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An Iowa Thing: Stories from the Flood

Posted on Tuesday, October 7th, 2008.

In early June of this year, Iowa City was among the many Midwest towns and cities hit by floods. As the Iowa River rose, parts of the city were evacuated and the water left homes and significant portions of the University of Iowa campus severely damaged. Just four months later, I traveled to Iowa City with fellow Facilitator, Kate, to record conversations as part of the University of Iowa Library’s flood story archive. During three days of recording we heard about dangerous waters, last-minute evacuation, and the devastating damage to homes and buildings. But what we also heard again and again was how people came together in the days before the flood.

Kelly, an Iowa University graduate, left her desk to join an effort to protect university buildings from the water. “People of different backgrounds and different stories dropped everything and started working together. An inmate was handing a sandbag to an Amish man, who was handing a sandbag to a child, who was carrying it to a college student. I don’t think there are many situations that would bring people together like that . . .”

Donald told friend and coworker Carol about pitching in to get the city ready for the water. “I found myself filling sandbags . . . two people away from a neighbor of mine . . . somebody that I’m not particularly crazy about. I’m a cyclist and he’s sort of a sociopathic driver. But there’s a time and a place to carry on that battle and it’s not when you’re sandbagging, it’s not when the spillway at the dam is about to spill over. I sort of looked over at him and sort of smiled nervously. He hasn’t tried to run me down with his Jeep Cherokee since!”

Dan had just moved to Iowa City when the floods hit and told his friend Kristi about sandbagging with neighbors and strangers. “One of the good things that came out of this, one of the nice ëWelcome to Iowa’ things about this for me, was there was a real sense of shared purpose. People did come and do things for no immediate reward . . . just because it was the right thing to do. I don’t know if that’s a university thing or an Iowa thing, or a just human thing. That impressed me.”

The honesty and warmth of these participants in sharing their stories certainly impressed us.

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