Thursday, June 19, 2008

Iowa Flooding: A Personal Account

Here's a personal report from Nancy Kraft, preservation librarian at the University of Iowa, taken from the Preservation Administration Discussion Group.

Some of you have voiced concern/support to us here in Iowa. I'm the Preservation Librarian at the University of Iowa and past PARS chair.

I live in Cedar Rapids on a hill. We drove our real estate agent crazy insisting that we live on a hill! Cedar Rapids is on the Cedar River. The River came up fast and ugly, going way beyond the 500 year flood plain, more than 12 feet over projected flood level, exceeding all past records. On the plus side, it is receding very rapidly allowing us to begin the recovery process.

Most of our cultural resources are along the river -- the public library, art museum, opera house, African American Museum, Czech/Slovak Museum & Library. You get the idea. The 1st floor of the public library is wiped out. Luckily it's all replaceable books. The rare material is on 2nd floor but they can't get to the library yet so we may be dealing with mold here soon.

I've been working primarily with the Czech and African American museums -- talking through the recovery process, etc. Today with the help of some local politicians we were able to get an exemption and get a recovery team and freezer truck into the Czech Museum area. The mud and guck was so thick that we weren't able to do much today except get some of the mud out. Tomorrow we plan to start packing the material out and "fight the good fight" to get the African American museum exempted so we can start packing them out, too. Gary Frost joined me today and will continue to help this week.

Travel is difficult and patience-testing, taking at least double the time to get any where. Roads have been washed out so even if the water goes down, the road isn't there anymore anyway.

The University of Iowa is on the Iowa River. It came up slow, giving us a lot of time to prepare. It, too, exceeded all previous records but did not get as high as projected. My director went along with my request to evacuate all special collections material and selected book areas out of the basement 5 foot above floor level. At the time I made the request we were being denied sandbags. Of course, once we had most materials out, the sandbags arrived after all. The help was phenomenal. At 6PM Thursday we were told we had two days to evacuate -- Friday and Saturday. Knowing that dams might break we assumed one day and got all our staff relocated, computers out and collections in the basement per my request of 5 feet out by Friday 8PM. We were told sometime on Friday that a dam of some sort did break and that we could not come back on Saturday. Actually we were told to stay home for a week. We had hundreds of volunteers. Our evacuation was phenomenal. I've never seen anything like it. We have 3 elevators and 2 stairwells to the basement. Our collections are crazy making, unfinished floor, compact shelves, narrow aisles. We used carts and elevators, human book handing chains in the stairwells, box brigades. I told everyone that I hoped my worst fears were just that and that all this evacuation was just a practice exercise. Turned out that just what it was. We only got 2" in the basement.

The Iowa River came up slow, it's going down slow. Our Art and Music Libraries are on the 2nd floor of flooded buildings. We're very concerned that we'll have lots of mold. We think we'll be ok with the collection in Main Library.

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