Anamosa braces for record flood

Wapsipinicon River also high in Independence

March 28, 2014 | 5:07 pm

ANAMOSA — Don Bowers has faith, but not blind faith, that his convenience store located along the Wapsipinicon River won't be devastated the way it was during the floods in 2008.

But he's still ready to remove cooler doors, seal fuel tanks, and secure inventory if an updated weather forecast indicates it will be necessary Thursday morning.

"You'd be lying if you said you weren’t worried," Bowers said, surveying the river from the parking lot of Tapken's Convenience Plus in a Hawaiian shirt Wednesday afternoon. "You can’t help it, that’s a part of human nature. But you’re not gonna find a better group of people to keep it from happening than what we’ve got here."

Just across the street, Ron French, assistant fire chief for Anamosa, was organizing a volunteer sandbagging effort the City Shop Shed where people in need of sandbags will be able to pick them up.

With the rain that fell early Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service has projected the river will crest at a record 27 feet on Friday morning. In 2008, the river peaked at a record 26.2 feet — which toppled previous flood protection in place at the water treatment plant, damaged nearby athletic fields and over 40 homes.

Though floods swamped the town's wastewater treatment plant 5 years ago, French said the new plant — which has received nearly $3 million in renovations since 2008 —  has been elevated well above that level, and won't be threatened this time around.

"It won't be a concern at all this time, I would stress that," French said. "I would also stress that people use water wisely, the system is under stress just even from all the water and rain and just the stuff that we've had and some of the sewers are having trouble keeping up."

French also said the town has also built several berms along the river — near the new City Shop Shed and Tapken's — that have slightly eased flooding concerns.  As of Wednesday afternoon, he said the fire department had not been called in for any kind of rescues, and added that they expect a few residential homes along the river to be affected.

A few miles down the river, family and neighbors of Carolyn and Wayne Vernon came together to help the couple — who have lived at their home off Shaw Road for 15 years — move furniture out of their basement and build a berm along the back of their home.

Carolyn Vernon said their home flooded for the first time, with about 1 foot of water in their basement, in 2008. After that, Vernon said she and her family planned to spend the day moving large furniture, doors,  and 500-part doll collection out of their basement to minimize the damages.

"In '08 we were like, ‘Oh, we’ve never been flooded before’ and we didn’t worry about it until the last minute," Vernon said. "This time we know it could happen, it’s better to be prepared." 

Vernon said they also tried to build a berm for protection in 2008, but, because they didn't start early enough, the soil was too saturated to hold off the water. She hoped the 11-foot berm her family and friends were working on Wednesday morning would be enough to protect their home.

As volunteers filled sandbags across the street near the entrance to town, Bowers said he was grateful to live in a community where people help each other out, crediting volunteers for minimizing damages to his convenience store when it flooded in 2008.

"In all honesty, if this is going to happen, this is where to have it. The people around here are incredible," Bowers said. "In '08 there was an $180,000 loss (to my store), it would have been a $280,000 loss if it hadn't been fore the volunteer people that came in and helped me put it back together."

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