Cedar Rapids: What should Boulder County know about flood recovery?

Wise, thoughtful friend Larry from Cedar Rapids offered these words of advice via Facebook after reading the post below:

This brought back a lot of memories. …we were not directly affected by the floods in CR but are still living with the aftermath. 

All I can offer to the folks in CO is to know that this is a chance to make positive changes in your communities. Know that you will not be made whole by the federal or state govt. There are things that need done that you will have to finance yourselves. We are still struggling with that in CR. 

Those of us that don’t live in CO but love it are pulling for you.


As I tell Mrs. Smith rather frequently, I’m a lucky man. Terrific wife, wonderful children and daughter-in-law, super siblings, great friends, job worth doing, and much more.

Now we’ve been lucky together again, having just experienced—witnessed anyway—a second historic flood disaster in five years and emerged with dry feet and home.

In June 2008, we were still living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when some 10 percent of the city was flooded. Damage ran into the billions of dollars and the city was changed forever. We lived miles away from the slow-motion disaster that was the Cedar River, on a street that dead-ended a few doors downhill from us at Indian Creek. The creek became a ferocious torrent itself one memorable day during the larger flood and strangers flocked to our neighborhood to watch it rush by. We were never in danger in our spot on the hill.

Cedar Rapids, 2008
Cedar Rapids, 2008

Now we live on similar high ground in Longmont, Colorado. That’s in a corner of Boulder County, which has been savaged by flash floods and record rainfalls in the past week. We’re half a mile or so from the St. Vrain River and up a hill that’s steep enough to inspire some foul language after a long bicycle ride.  The water couldn’t get to us up here.

We’re a leisurely stroll from Left Hand Brewing Co., which sits smack dab in the middle of the flood zone, a few yards from what the brewers call “The Mighty St. Vrain” even when it’s little more than a trickle. The little river was indeed mighty when the flooding came and multiplied its width and fury many, many times over. (How they managed to reopen the brewery’s tasting room already is more than I can imagine.) The St. Vrain Greenway has been scrubbed clean of much of its greenery and the concrete trail that ran across town is broken into large slabs tilted in odd, disturbing ways. The river still rages.

Unlike the flood in Iowa, there was little warning that the Colorado floods were on the way. We heard little talk of sandbagging and no calls for help doing that last week. It would have done little good, anyway, as it turns out. The water came fast out of the mountains and down through the foothills from numerous streams and creeks and rivers. It killed several people, wrecked roads and bridges, and destroyed thousands of homes in 17 counties. Some towns are still cut off and people are being rescued by helicopter.

Longmont, 2013
Longmont, 2013

I have some inkling of what comes next. News reports have begun to mention FEMA and where to go to apply for relief. It will take months if not years, and billions of dollars, to rebuild infrastructure. Some businesses will rebuild and rebound and others will remain washed away.

After witnessing what happened in both places, futilely filling some sandbags in Cedar Rapids, writing a little and taking some photographs, I still do not have first-hand experience of what it’s like to have to rebuild everything. I would like to help somehow here in Colorado, but I don’t know what to tell people.

Cedar Rapids, my dear old neighbors and friends, what do we tell these Coloradans, your fellow U.S. citizens, including God knows how many other former Iowans and loyal Hawkeye fans?

What do they need to know about rebuilding? About coming together as a community to make decisions? About dealing with FEMA? About shoveling out the muck and searching for lost family treasures?

What can we learn from you?

Share your hard-earned wisdom if you can. We will do our best to pass it along.

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