Additional University of Iowa flood stories are moving to fyi, the University's faculty and staff news site. For flood recovery information and resources, visit the UI Flood Recovery Site.

Monday, June 30, 2008

"Never prouder of our UI community than those three hours in the rain"

Mike Andreski, a 1983 pharmacy alumnus and current grad student, recounts sandbagging with his family:

"At 6 PM on Thursday, June 11, my family and I watched the KCRG news coverage of the impending flood crest. We saw that many of the volunteers sandbagging were reaching the point of exhaustion, and we made the decision that it was our turn.

We quickly changed into some work clothes, grabbed our shovels and drove over the Burlington Street bridge from our west side home to pitch in. We parked near the Alpha Chi Sigma house on Market Street and walked down the hill past the Chemistry Building, past the parking ramp, and then down to the IMU. As we were crossing Madison Street, we saw President Mason and her husband getting into their car to leave the area. Proceeding to the circle near the river, we were quickly put to work filling sand bags.

As a group of four, two of us shoveled sand while the other two held bags open for filling. The piles of sand were covered with several groups of people. From our conversations we found that the groups consisted of faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, and others who wanted to help.

As the groups quickly transformed piles of sand and empty bags into pallets of filled bags, it started to rain, lightning and thunder. While we were tired, filthy, and wet, almost everyone moved to the growing wall of sand bags between Danforth Chapel and the loading dock of the IMU. As we passed the bags I told my son, an incoming freshman and third generation Hawkeye, how proud his departed grandfather, a UI College of Medicine graduate, would be of him. My thoughts were on the nearby Danforth Chapel where my first wife and I were married 24 years earlier, and I wondered how it would fare in the upcoming flood crest.

Once all the bags were stacked, we all wandered away from the IMU, tired, but hopeful that our efforts would be successful. While we were tired, filthy, and wet, we were energized by the cooperative spirit we had been a part of. My wife, a staff member, my older son, an incoming freshman, my younger son, another future Hawk, and myself, an alumnus and graduate student, were never prouder of our UI community than in those 3 hours in the rain."

"Community is the best way to deal with disaster"

Christopher Clark, a graduate student in political science displaced from Hawkeye Court Apartments, writes:

"The week of the flood, I had just returned from spending 12 days at home in Kansas City, Missouri. It is always nice to see family, but I missed having my own space.

Initially, I did not think that the flood would affect me. When I learned that I had to evacuate my apartment, the flood became personal, instead of being this abstract thing that was influencing the lives of thousands around me.

I called my pastor's family, and they graciously agreed to let me stay with them. I called my mother to get advice on what I should pack. I packed up my Social Security card, tax information, and bank statements. I took pictures of loved ones, my vast music and movie collection, and clothes to last me a couple of weeks. As I looked at all the material things around me, it occurred to me that what really matters in life is not the stuff that I have, but rather the relationships that I have. It is one of those moments that will remain with me for a long time.

Over the next few days, I sat with my pastor's family and watched as people's homes floated away. I saw the extensive damage to Cedar Rapids and I realized that thousands of people's lives would be forever changed by this natural disaster. We were able to grieve together through the flood, which I found to be the best way of dealing with that emotion.

Initially, I tried not to feel negatively about my situation. Nonetheless, as I talked more with people here in Iowa and with family at home, I realized that it was fine for me to be upset, frustrated, and irritated. I had been displaced because of the flood, so it was not abnormal for me to be bothered.

Through the flood, I was able to relate to how strangers in a new town must feel. I was out of my comfort zone. I was dependent on other people for my wellbeing. I was vulnerable. I could have been prideful and obstinate, choosing to sleep in my car instead of staying at my pastor's home. Instead, I chose to accept the hospitality, community, and love that were extended to me.

After this experience, I am going to extend myself to someone the next chance I have to do so. I know that my experience with this flood serves a greater purpose, and I think part of that is to learn to empathize with strangers.

This experience has taught me a number of things. The first is that we have little control over our lives. A second lesson is that material things are less important than relationships. Things do not define me. On the other hand, I need relationships with people, and those very much define me. A third lesson is that community is the best way to deal with disaster. There is inexplicable value in experiencing difficulty with other people—I could not imagine dealing with this alone.

The fourth and final lesson is that any one of us, at any time, could become the stranger who needs assistance. Instead of a self-centered and cynical approach to human suffering, we ought to extend ourselves to them and do whatever is within our power to ameliorate their plight."

Friday, June 27, 2008

"To ones deserving more than thanks"

UI senior Alexandra Khoshaba writes:

"I used to think that natural disasters were merely spectacles separated by thousands of miles, and that they were only as real as the pictures that you see on television. Everyone heard about Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Thailand, and the earthquake in China, but only the people that lived through them can actually feel the magnitude of such a catastrophe. Whoever came up with the term 'Seeing Is Believing' is far more intelligent than anyone I’ve ever known, and it is only when a person becomes a part of something much bigger than themselves can they actually start to look at the world and themselves as a piece of it, a bit differently.

Over the past three weeks I’ve seen thousands of UI students, faculty, and members of the community sandbag the homes and buildings that once contained the sacred artifacts that defined our education. I’ve donated supplies, and we have all made honest attempts at bringing normalcy back to our city. Above all, the most powerful and surprising force present in our community is not the water, but the inherent goodness of the members of our community. Sandbagging, gathering supplies, and contributing money have all been the most publicized form of support, but there is something else that our community needs to know.

So many of us have already spent tireless hours preparing for the flood, but our efforts cannot stop there. Yes the river has crested, class has resumed, and the Ped Mall is full, but there are still people out there that need help. Over the past week I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the courageous residents of Normandy Drive, here in Iowa City, and they have all been more than willing to let a UI student into their crumbling world. Many of the residents of Normandy Drive are professors, retired faculty, and elderly persons who are too kind to ask anyone for help. Take it from me…they need it. I know of a woman who had a heart attack trying to clean out her basement. I also know of a professor who is selflessly continuing on with summer class despite losing the place that her children have called home for their entire lives. Finally, I know that these residents are not getting much needed help and support from various recovery agencies, and are on the verge of losing everything.

Having spent four years at the UI, I know how many professors, business owners, and members of our community have changed my life. I know they have also changed the lives of thousands of others as well. It is not uncommon at The University of Iowa to hear students thanking their professors as they hand in their final exams, but how often do we, as students, actually have a chance to show them that we really mean it? All that you need to enter their secret world is a pair of rubber boots, a tetanus shot, and a big smile. It may sound completely ridiculous to just 'show up ready to work,' but give it five minutes and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

The sights, sounds, and smells lingering on Normandy Drive are absolutely heart-wrenching and the entire area provides a bit of a culture shock. The spirit, motivation, determination, and heart of the neighborhood far outweighs everything else. Unrequited love truly is an amazing gift, but what is more astonishing is returning that very same compassion to the people who deserve more than just a 'Thank You'."

"Hold on to hope"

Recent UI grad Kimn Swenson Gollnick writes:

"As a nontraditional adult student, I managed to graduate from the University of Iowa last month just a week before my son graduated from high school and just three weeks before this historic flood swallowed eastern Iowa. The flood made us breathless with the incomprehensible level of rising rivers that left such devastation in their wake. Since I live in Marion with my family, I worried not only about Cedar Rapids but about the condition of the UI campus, particularly the EPB and Adler Journalism buildings where I spent so much time these past two years.

Just as I prepared to help with sandbagging efforts, officials closed I-380, cutting off access between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. I never felt so helpless. So I called a volunteer line—if I couldn't help in Iowa City, I certainly could help in Cedar Rapids. I now have a Tuesday route for Meals-on-Wheels delivering hot lunches to the needy. My husband and I delivered snacks and drinks to the police department when officers were working 16-hour shifts. I helped sort, fold and distribute donated clothing and shoes at Mission of Hope. I helped with the Red Cross distribution at the Sam's Club parking lot on Blairs Ferry Road, loading victims' cars with water, clean-up kits, spray sanitizer and boxes of masks. Many of these weary souls smiled through the numbness.

Over the past two weeks I have met dozens of people who I know only by first names but for whom I feel a great and glorious bond. In retrospect, I experienced Mount St. Helens when it blew in Washington state and it pulled the citizens together. Now I am in Iowa, working alongside my neighbors, students, professors and friends, fellow citizens all. Hold on to hope and we will get through this horrific event together."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Thinking of Iowa"

Tom Swick, travel writer for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, notes in his blog that news of the flood triggered memories of a trip to Iowa:

"I skipped through Cedar Rapids but stopped in Iowa City, which quickly became one of my favorite college towns, with one of my favorite independent bookstores, Prairie Lights. I assume the bookstore's OK, but I heard about the people forming a chain to move books out of the first floor of the university library, where I spent a quiet June afternoon just three summers ago.

Everywhere I went in Iowa, on both my trips, people lived up to their reputation as friendly, considerate, decent - the kind of folks you'd like to have as neighbors. I always thought that if foreigners really wanted to learn about this country, they should visit Iowa."

For Summer Rep, the shows go on

When Dave McGraw last saw the David Thayer Theatre at the UI Theatre Building, thousands of costumes hung from the rigging, mute witnesses above the vacant stage. “When we closed up the space, it was a little eerie, but also kind of serene to see that wave of costumes stretch up to the ceiling,” he says.

Theatre students, faculty, and staff had just cleared costume and prop collections from the basement in four and a half hours—30 minutes quicker than back in the summer of 1993. The Department of Theatre Arts’ experience with the earlier flood had taught them to think and move fast once the river started to rise.

The creeping waters also forced the question of whether Iowa Summer Repertory Theatre—the department’s annual series showcasing the work of a featured playwright with full-scale productions and staged readings—could go on.

“We were at odds about whether we should continue,” says McGraw, a lecturer and production manager who has worked on Summer Rep for five years. “We knew it would be hard to go to rehearsal knowing everything that was happening outside.”

But tonight “Wonder of the World” opens at Iowa City West High School, the substitute site that’s welcomed Summer Rep. Performances of the play and other works by featured writer David Lindsay-Abaire continue through July.

West High also played host to several hundred National Guard troops who bunked in the gym, as well as the congregation of Parkview Church, who continue to share the auditorium with the UI theatre company. (“We've been spiffing up their lighting a little bit, I think,” McGraw says.)

The overnight move to a new venue was fairly seamless. “Many of us come from touring backgrounds, “ McGraw says. “It was a huge group effort, but it hearkened back to the days when you’d put everything on a truck and away you’d go, not sure where you’d wind up next.”

Of course it hasn’t all been easy. Some cast and crew rushed out to sandbag in the morning, then came to rehearsal. Many know folks who’ve been displaced from their homes. Though guardedly optimistic, none are sure what they’ll find once they return to the Theatre Building.

All are determined to put on a show, however, if only to offer weary, worried audiences a break. Last night, they performed a free preview open to the public.

“When we started rehearsals in May, our artistic director Eric Forsythe said all these shows concerned people coping with extraordinary circumstances, people just trying to get through the day,” McGraw says. “It’s an appropriate season for this year, because our world seems pretty messed up. But the sun keeps rising.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Photo gallery

As noted in a post over the weekend, Dave Jackson of Facilities Management has created an online gallery that shows flood preparations and provides a good account of staff and volunteer efforts to protect the campus.