Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Brother the Sandbagger

When we were in school my brother, Tom, and I frequently rode our Schwinn Twin cruiser tandem to school. As the older brother I sat in front and steered. This meant that I had to frequently scold Tom for “sandbagging:” taking his feet off the pedals and coasting.

Tom spent yesterday sandbagging too, but it was anything but coasting. His in-laws live in the “Mosquito Flats” section of Iowa City. Their backyard used to front the Iowa River. Yesterday their backyard WAS the Iowa River. I came over to help him and his wife and sons.

The benchmark for all flooding is 1993. The Coralville dam, upriver 5 miles, was overtopped to the tune of 5 feet above the spillway that summer. Residents of Mosquito Flats were out of their homes for over a month. Yesterday Corps of Engineers representatives (who control the dam) told residents to expect a water level at least one foot higher than ’93.

The big difference this time was a coordinated volunteer effort. Engineers laid out a line along the back of all the properties. Using GPS they shot elevations of yards then drove stakes and made tape marks as to how high to build sandbag walls. The community turn out was great, high school kids, college students, residents, kids, were all out in force. City trucks dropped sand, the corps donated bags.Crews filled bags, volunteers with pickup trucks would load sand and drive as far as they could into back yards. Human chains unloaded trucks and built walls. The Salvation Army came with sandwiches and drinks. Mormon kids on mission in Iowa carpooled and showed up in droves. People I knew who didn't live anywhere near, showed up with pizzas. Elderly residents who couldn't physically work spent the day baking cookies and bringing them out. A member of our church who lives in the neighborhood broke her leg last week. She spent the entire day in a wheelchair at the sand pile with a shovel filling bags.

Here is Monte, who we spent most of the day working with:

(Photo from www.press-citizen.com)

Here is some wall building:

(Photo from www.press-citizen.com)

And the sandbag fillers:

(Photo from www.press-citizen.com)
When I went home last night we had finished about 8 properties with about four more to go. With luck it can be finished today, as the river is rising another foot today.


StuccoHouse said...

Wow, it's nice to see a community pulling together like that. Let's hope it makes the outcomes dramatically different from the '93 floods.

When I was young, once a year we went to a campground in MN that rented those double bikes. My parents would rent one for me and then wouldn't see me until they were driving out of the campground to go home. And, of course, my sister sandbagged too.

Jenni said...

The teamwork in the pictures is just wonderful. It breaks my heart to hear that the water is spilling over the wall after all this HARD work and community spirit.

Mike said...

I still have the tandem! It is a 1963 Schwinn Twin cruiser, 1 speed coaster brakes only. Our oldest daughter is now just big enough to fit on the back of the tandem bike so I have had a lot of fun riding around this summer.

The community spirit has been incredible, and it is hard to watch people's efforts fail. As of noon today the main arterial bridge, is shutting down to car traffic. The two bridges north of it were already closed and it leaves only one of the two south of it open. The last remaining bridge has water aross the road both north and south of it, so anyone driving has to take incredibly circuitous routes.