July 10, 2014 · Jake Krob
More than a week after record rainfall caused serious flash-flood damage in Mount Vernon-Lisbon, residents are in clean-up mode.
The seminal event struck Sunday and Monday, June 29 and 30, with water flooding homes, tearing apart some roads and toppling some bridges, and winds knocking over some trees.
Gov. Terry Branstad issued a disaster emergency proclamation for eight counties, including Linn. It allows state resources to be used for recovery efforts.
It also activates the Iowa Individual Assistance Program, with grants up to $5,000 for households with incomes of up to 200 percent of the poverty level. More information is available at dhs.iowa.gov/disaster-assistance-programs.
Mount Vernon city administrator Mike Beimer said city staff is keeping track of storm-related expenses, such as picking up residents' flood debris and patching roads, with the hope of reimbursement.
The City of Lisbon set up a dumpster by City Hall for residents to discard carpet. City crews also did a special brush pickup last week. The city's next brush pickup is this coming Monday.
Interim city administrator Connie Meier said Lisbon is assessing ditches and culverts, as well as some streets where the edges were damaged by water. She said there is information at City Hall about applying for funding for help with costs associated with structural damage.
'A war zone'
Cy Frommelt, owner of Cy's Tree Service, said damage he's seen is "like a war zone" in Eastern Iowa.
He said when power and phone service were out, he had people knocking on his door in the middle of the night requesting help. And after the June 30 straight-line winds ravaged many trees, Cy was receiving 50 to 70 phone calls every half hour.
"It was clearly a state of emergency," he said.
His crews have mainly been focusing on craning trees off of houses. Then they'll move onto the other jobs. Cy also warns people about "scammers" that could be in the area. He said anyone using a tree service should "ask for a certificate of liability insurance."
Cy himself was working on a tree in Lisbon June 30 when the tornado sirens started going off. He and his crew dropped the tree, jumped in a truck and quickly drove toward Cy's home and shop by Hwy. 151. When they got there, they were locked out of the house.
Cy said he ran around the home, trying to find a way in, when wind picked him up, carried him six feet, and threw him to the ground. He eventually kicked in the side door of a garage to get his crew to safety in the basement.
The City of Lisbon's wastewater treatment plant flooded twice over the two days. The plant handles sanitary sewer - the stuff that goes down sink drains and is flushed down toilets.
Travis Bagby, Lisbon's water/wastewater superintendent, said the creek near the plant flooded into the treatment plant.
The flooding meant that on two occasions the waste in the plant washed away, instead of being treated and slowly discharged.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported that the plant's equipment remained in working order to handle treatment of waste.
A few homes in Mount Vernon experienced sewer backups, with sewage rushing from toilets and other sources into their basements.
Stormwater systems, for rain and groundwater runoff, are separate from sanitary systems, which handle things like toilets and sink drains.
However, Alex Volkov, Mount Vernon's water/wastewater superintendent, said record rainfall can affect the sanitary system.
One issue, he said, is people having sump pumps hooked into the sanitary system, which is illegal. They overload the system, and can cause backups.
The other issue, Volkov said, is old sanitary sewer pipes. They might have bad joints, for instance, and can take on ground water during heavy rains.
He said the numbers at the city's wastewater treatment plant show both issues were in play during the big rains. He said on average the wastewater treatment plant handles 350,000 gallons of waste per day. During the recent storm, that number topped 4 million gallons. The plant is designed to handle 2.4 million gallons.
Volkov encourages people to make sure sump pumps are not hooked into the sanitary sewer system.
And he pointed out that those with problems during the recent storm should recognize "nobody has seen anything like this for awhile."
Some residents did experience similar backups in 2008, when record flooding hit Eastern Iowa.
A crew from the Mannatts construction company started work on Hwy. 1 north of Mount Vernon this week after a flooded creek's rushing water caved in the highway.
Cathy Cutler of the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) said Mannatts was hired to do the work as it was already there for the Hwy. 1 resurfacing project. She said the company is being paid by time and material and a "rough estimate" for the fix is $50,000.
The timing of completion largely depends on weather and the amount of water in the creek, Cutler said. The earliest it could be done is at the end of this week.
A box culvert under Hwy. 1 just north of Abbe Hills Road carries water under the highway. A DOT project manager, on site last week, said the water in the creek, normally a couple of feet deep, was at least 18 feet deep. He said water likely swirled near the east-side entry to the culvert, and when the culvert couldn't handle the rush the water went outside of it and tore away the ground.
Emergency personnel report two vehicles made it over the culvert as it began to cave in, and a third was swallowed by it. Given torrential rains, it's unlikely the drivers saw the problem with the road.
The DOT reports the culvert was not damaged.
Flooding at an apartment complex displaced four tenants at 600 W. Hwy. 30 in Lisbon.
Linda Achenbach, who owns the four-plex with her husband, Alex, said three of the units took on some water after heavy rains in mid-June, and were repaired. All four were then hit June 29-30.
The complex was built in 1992, and Linda said this is the first time they've flooded.
Darci Schultz, a teacher in Lisbon, lived in the apartment that wasn't hit the first time, but did get flooded this last time.
She was visiting her brother at the time, and returned to find a friend and her husband moving all of her belongings out.
"I feel very, very fortunate," she said. She's staying with a friend in Cedar Rapids.
Megan Woodward, another tenant, said the rains June 29 created water "like a river" through her place.
She said she loaded what she could into her 4-Runner and "watched everything else get destroyed."
She stayed in a hotel for a few days, and is now looking for another place to live.
Thankful for help
Ruth Horton was one of many affected by flooding in Mount Vernon.
She's grateful for family, friends and the greater community after 22 inches of water filled her basement.
Horton's home, at 102 5th St. N.W., sits on the corner of Hwy. 1 and Fifth Street. Three days after the storms that struck Sunday and Monday, June 29 and 30, her front yard was filled with household items drying out. She joked that it was a yard sale.
In the driveway sat a large dumpster. Nearby, two cars sat dripping water.
The cars were totaled when water rushed into the Horton garage (Ruth's daughter's vehicle had so much water the drink holders were filled.)
Water traveled from the garage to an access to the finished basement, and rose 22 inches before stopping.
Ruth said this is the fourth time the basement has flooded since 1972; the worst was in 1993.
Ruth said she's in one of the lowest spots in Mount Vernon, and the water rushing into her home showed how low her home is.
She said family and friends helped set up sump pumps Sunday night (when big rains sent water over the street curb and into her home). A couple of Cornell College wrestlers helped move items from the basement, and family and friends have helped remove sheetrock two feet up from the floor.
She keeps it in perspective.
"I don't think I'm in an exclusive club," she said.
Just up the road, at 809 1st Ave. N.W., water rushed high over the highway and had so much force it toppled some of the block foundation of the front of the home.