Long-term residents in a southwest Iowa town are recalling their own flood history as they see what’s happening in New Orleans. The town of Hamburg sits almost on the Iowa/Missouri border, not far from Nebraska, along the Nishnabotna River. The Missouri River’s about 12 miles away. John Field took a job at the Hamburg newspaper in 1952, and the town flooded two months later. The next big flood came in 1993, when flood waters sat in town for a week. Field had just purchased a new, 20-foot-long pontoon boat. City officials asked him to use it, so Field and his son participated in the rescue effort. “We spent three days hauling people and furniture, house-to-house, out of the south end of town,” Field says. Like New Orleans, Hamburg has a system of levies or dikes surrounding it to try to keep river waters out. “Hamburg is still surrounded by 20-foot-high dikes that go from the east part of town all the way south to the mouth of the Nishna River and all the way up the Missouri River to…Council Bluffs,” Field says. But in 1993, the dikes only went as far as Thurman, and river water poured over the dikes about 20 miles north of Hamburg, soon flooding the town. “The Missouri River…came flooding into town, all the bottom land, everything, to within about two foot of the top of the levy, just about exactly as it did in New Orleans,” Field says. The trapped residents of New Orleans have Field’s sympathy. “The only way we got the water out of town — it came in and it sat there for a week…but it couldn’t get out anyplace because the water was inside the levy just like their problem down there — and finally, one old boy who knew what he was doing drove down that levy one night and cleared out the bottom end of it and dynamited a hole you could drive a truck through,” Field says. “Out went the water and we were dry within 24 hours.” Field says Hamburg was struck repeatedly by floods since the late 18-hundreds. “So you see people in this town, the natives here, had what I call a flood mentality,” Field says. “It’s just one of the things you put up with if you live in Hamburg. That was in the good old days.” There hasn’t been a flood in Hamburg since 1993. “They’ve put in a new dike and made other improvements around,” Field says. “I don’t think we’ll ever flood again.” During the flood of 1952, pests like snakes were rampant around the Field’s home, which sat on the bluff. His son, Dan, was three years old at the time and walked into the house with a “wiggly stick.” It was a two-foot-long snake, and his mother very carefully led him outdoors to put the snake down. Many of the people who had their homes flooded out never returned to Hamburg, and Field expects many of those who’ve escaped New Orleans will never return. Unlike what’s happened in New Orleans, though, Field says there was never any looting in Hamburg during any of the floods as people, instead, pitched in to helped their neighbors. Field and his wife welcomed two other families into their home to live for two months in 1952 when that flood struck. The Federal Emergency Management Agency bought about a dozen lots where homes had stood that were flooded in 1993, and that area is now just grass. Hamburg today has just over 12-hundred residents.
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