More than nine square miles of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by flooding in Cedar Rapids. The clean up is just getting started in the downtown area where the power is still out. Huge generators are providing electricity. The electrical vaults, which are buried underground, are still under water.
Although the weather has been sunny, dry and not too hot – it hasn’t made the chore of removing muddy furniture, appliances and other materials from downtown buildings any more enjoyable. Lee Clancey is the president of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Because of the mixture of all the different things that were in the water, including raw sewage and gasoline, the smell is just terrible," Clancey said. "The recovery workers have to wear masks because of the carbon monoxide that’s being let off by all the generators and pumps that are working."
Drivers of semis, skid loaders, garbage trucks, dump trucks and other specialized equipment are trying to find their way around the downtown streets – which are loaded with mounds of trash. Clancey said, "Honestly, the biggest issue we have right now is an inability to pick up all of the piles and mountains of garbage that have been accumulated as a result of people clearing out their businesses."
The Small Business Administration will open a Business Recovery Center in Cedar Rapids today. Clancey says the chamber of commerce is also organizing a "business recovery fund." She says the biggest question facing downtown businesses right now is where the city will allow people to relocate or rebuild.
Clancey says she’s "absolutely dumbstruck" by the residents of Cedar Rapids who are working around the clock to get back into their homes and businesses. "You know, we talk about the work ethic a lot here in Iowa in terms of workforce. But I have never seen it demonstrated so clearly as I have over the past two weeks. People are just absolutely frantically helping each other and trying to get this community back on its feet," Clancy said.
Experts with FEMA calculate that the flood clean-up in Cedar Rapids will send 400,000 cubic yards of garbage to the landfill. The Linn County Landfill, in a typical year, receives 350,000 cubic yards of trash.