The angst and the anger of flood victims was apparent Thursday as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama met with a small group of Cedar Rapids-area residents affected by June’s flood.
Obama sat in a half circle with the group inside the Czech Museum and Library’s vacant entrance hall. Today, the building is like an empty shell, with studs denoting where the walls will be reconstructed. "We wanted to do this event here partly because you can see that rebuilding is taking place and I think it’s a testimony to the people of Cedar Rapids," Obama said.
Scott Jamieson of Cedar Rapids sat to Obama’s left and told Obama there’s "immense darkness" in his city. "While many, many lights are shining and people are doing an extraordinarily good job this, senator, is an enormous grind. It is an emotional grind; it’s a physical grind and it is a mental grind — and part of the mental grind is trying to figure out the riddle. In many ways it’s like a Buddhist’s cone. It’s almost the unanswerable questions for folks," Jamieson said. "People in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the entire state of Iowa can answer questions and make decisions if they know what the rules are."
The entire group complained about foot-dragging on the part of the federal government in a number of areas, including the unresolved question of how much federal disaster aid will be forwarded to Iowa. That decision must come before local decisions are made about which properties will be included in a new flood zone and therefore be part of a government buy-out program.
Jamieson runs a nonprofit agency in Cedar Rapids and the group’s office was flooded. "We have a balance sheet that’s very clean. We have no debt…and that attracts SBA money as opposed to FEMA money and so we will take on considerable debt," Jamieson said. "…Under routine circumstances we can handle that and that’s not that big a deal for us, however the thing that troubles us is the effort that we put into running an agency like that knowing that other agencies, other not-for-profits whose balance sheets are a mess, for whatever reason, will get their money for free." Meaning they’ll get an outright grant from FEMA rather than an S.B.A. loan on which they must pay interest.
Robin and Paul Morris ran the "Coffee Emporium" in downtown Cedar Rapids and while they plan to reopen this fall, they’re unsure whether the business will survive. "We worked hard for 20 years to build up equity in our house and they’re going to take all that to give us a loan," Paul Morris told Obama. "We hope we can start over but there are still concerns if we’ll have enough business to pay the bills."
Katherine Marcano and her disabled sister were flooded out of their Cedar Rapids apartment on June 11th. Her sister’s now living with relatives on the east coast. Marcano stayed with "merciful strangers" in Marion for two weeks, then moved into a dorm room at Kirkwood College before returning to her second-floor apartment. "I was able to move back into my apartment about a week or a week-and-a-half ago. I am very happy. Nothing feels better than sleeping in a bed, you know," she told Obama. "I had to throw a lot of stuff away because of mold issues."
Marcano’s car was totaled in the flood. She bought a used car, but the only loan the dealer would offer her has a 19 percent interest rate.
You can listen to part of the conversation among Obama and the Cedar Rapids flood victims by clicking on the audio link below.