Monday, June 16, 2008

Iowa Floods 2008: Part One

Thursday started off pretty good for me. It was the last day that my mother-in-law would be staying with us and the very next morning I was taking off work to drive her to the airport. I have to say that already I miss her and the care that she doted on Little Abbey which freed me to get a lot of things done that I had wanted to do. But I was also looking forward to getting back into my routine and having just a little more peace and quiet around our household. I was mentally counting down the hours and creating lists out on our back deck to make sure everyone got up in time for our very early departure when Mrs. Abbey leaned out to give me the bad news. Some friends of ours who live in Iowa City were under a mandatory evacuation and had no place to stay. Could the wife and child come live with us for the next two weeks? Um… yes…. I would love to have them.

So Thursday night ended up being pretty chaotic with my humble household having swelled from three to seven people. I doubled up the breakfast the next morning and was still able to get the Abbey clan out in the van and ready to head to the airport. Our friends we left with a key and told them to make themselves at home. We planned to meet them in Iowa City a little bit later and see what we could rescue from their apartment if it hadn't already been flooded too badly.

We hurtled north and only slowed a bit as we went around Iowa City on the freeway to do a bit of rubbernecking. Fortunately for the flow of traffic, there isn't a lot to see on the freeway as it is on high ground and on the opposite side of a hill from the Iowa River that was playing havoc on the other side. We entered the interstate and crossed the head of Coralville Lake that impounds the Iowa River and suddenly I was sobered up with reality. The reality being that the water in the lake normally fifteen or more feet below the roadway was now less than a foot away. I had been joking about using my canoe previously in a blog entry but now I see that I was way closer to the truth than I had thought. About that time I heard that Interstate 80, one of the major interstates that crosses the country and runs along the north side of Iowa City was closed to traffic. The alternative route was on the road we were now on and about to flood itself.

We got Mrs. Abbey' mother dropped off at the airport and sat around for an hour to give her company before she had to go through security and catch her flight. As soon as she was out of sight, we headed off for the van and headed south hoping that the water hadn't yet gone over the road. It hadn't. But it was just inches from doing so. An hour later, we learned it was closed and that the detour if you were heading from Iowa to Illinois involved a 150-mile detour up through Cedar Falls, a town where the floodwaters had already been and receded.

Our choices into Iowa City from the freeway were limited as all but two of the exits were closed due to flooding. We chose the Melrose exit since it is less than a half-mile from the exit to their apartment and got off the freeway. Immediately we were in gridlock traffic as far as the eye could see heading into Iowa City. There were lots of vans, SUV's and panel trucks. Obviously we weren't the only ones thinking about getting out while the getting was good. A half mile and an hour or so later, we pulled into the apartment complex which was still dry but a flurry of activity as people were loading up everything to the kitchen sink, and parked. I folded down seats in the van to maximize the cargo capacity and got ready to start carrying heavy objects. More on that tomorrow.

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