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A Dam Gives Way in Iowa, and Residents Tally Losses

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DELHI, Iowa — When your life and livelihood are so dependent on a lake, as Chris Stender’s are, a flood like the one that hit his hometown here over the weekend throws everything into a muddy tailspin.


After heavy rainfall ruptured the Lake Delhi dam here on Saturday, pushing record-high floodwaters down the Maquoketa River, this hot Sunday became a day of reckoning. Mr. Stender, 42, who owns a lakeside marina and a nearby home, is beginning to survey the damage.


“I lost half my home and my business in one day,” he said. “I don’t know what I’ll do. My God.”


His salvage pile looked like a pitch pile, drenched in water and coated in mud. Water skis were stacked beside rows of Windex and paper towels. Friends were serving barbecued pork sandwiches with dollops of hand sanitizer.


Walking through the littered marina, Mr. Stender rattled off his financial losses. “Twenty-five to thirty thousand in docks. Thirty to forty thousand in lifts. Seventy-five thousand in parts.”


Mr. Stender said he did not have flood insurance because it was too expensive.


“I don’t know how I’m going to rebuild,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take. I don’t even know what I’m going to do next week.”


The floodwaters in eastern Iowa have dropped, leaving a sticky residue along with the uncertainty and disbelief. Officials estimate that 8,000 people were affected by the record rise of the Maquoketa River, a tributary of the Mississippi River. It was fueled by unrelenting rain and the first failure of the 83-year-old dam.


Waters that went through the breached dam snapped up trees, boats and docks on Saturday, shredding them in seconds and spitting them down river.


“It really was like evil forces,” said Shirley Helmrichs, a Delaware County supervisor. Ms. Helmrichs said that county employees had run scenarios for a dam breach, but that they had been based on a crest that was four feet lower than the one on Saturday.


“We knew that much more was coming,” she said.


Towns down river — Hopkinton, which has 700 residents, and Monticello, population 3,700 — braced themselves for the brunt of the flood’s fury. Flood sirens sounded, and officials called for the evacuation of Hopkinton’s south side. Residents waited and watched for a reported “surge” or “10-foot wall of water.”


It never came.


Ms. Helmrichs said the towns had been spared because the floodwaters spread over a wide area, dissipating over thousands of acres of farmland. “When it hit the flats, it spread out, so it wasn’t a wall of water,” she said. “It made a huge difference. No people have died — that is a miracle!”


The flood’s broad path sent farmers scrambling.


Tim Goedken, 46, a farmer from Hopkinton, moved 200 dairy cows on Saturday and was bringing them back to his farm on Sunday. His home and barn were spared, but he lost 50 acres of corn — about $15,000 worth, he said. Ninety acres of his corn and pasture are under water, and about 75 bales of hay — 5 feet tall, 6 feet wide, each weighing 1,500 pounds — were carried away.


“Yesterday it was very eerie,” Mr. Goedken said. “But today the livestock’s back and it’s much more relaxing. Relieved is the word.”


His neighbors helped him round up the cattle. Tana Guetzko, 48, three miles down the road, brought over blonde brownies, chocolate zucchini cake and cinnamon rolls. “We were trying to bake and keep ahead of those guys,” she said. “It’s devastating just to see the crops they’ve lost.”


Homeowners and business owners in Manchester, northwest of the dam, also were reeling. The flood damaged two buildings and 2,500 tires at Smitty’s, a tire and appliance store in town. It wiped out the west wall of the tire warehouse.


“We’ve had a lot of big rains,” said Max Boren, 60, the owner. But this, he said, was “the mother of all floods.”



Read more at:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/26/us/26iowa.html?ref=us

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