The Ottumwa Courier

June 5, 2013

Flash flood victims not alone

Courier staff writer

OTTUMWA — Following flash flooding that struck Ottumwa last week, several agencies want residents to know that help is available.

Public Works Director Larry Seals said over the last 10 years, the city has continued efforts to "alleviate future flooding."

"'Riverside flooding' is where the Des Moines River receives enough [rain] to exceed the capacity of the channel," Seals said. "Ottumwa is fortunate enough to be protected with the levee system."

The city has more than seven miles of levees, which help protect vulnerable areas of the city when Lake Red Rock is forced to release, he said.

But a few residents who attended Tuesday's City Council meeting said the "ongoing efforts" haven't done enough.

Connie Hazelwood said her home on West Second Street west of Union Park has been hit multiple times during flash floods.

"It's like a bathtub ... it just fills up," she said of the neighborhood.

Denny Whitson, who lives on Harrow's Branch along with four other homes, said flooding was never an issue until a levee was installed on West Second Street.

While Whitson said he would normally accept damages endured since he chose to live on a creek and in a flood plain, he said the levee has done more damage than good, not helping to stop floodwaters from storming both West Second Street and Harrow's Branch.

"What happens on Harrow's Branch is man-made," he said.

But heavy rainfall in a short period of time means sometimes there isn't much the city can do, said Councilman Bob Meyers.

"Areas on the west end of town and some on the north were reporting up to 7 inches of rain," Seals said of flash flooding last week. "We can handle 7 inches over 24 hours, but it's a lot different when that comes within a few hours and the ground is already saturated from a number of weeks of rain events."

The next step in maintaining the levee system is implementing the $16 million FEMA grant the city received last year, which will go toward the West End Sewer Separation Project, as well as the installation of a flood wall around the water plant, construction of a storm water pump station and updated gate well structures in the existing levee that will convey overland storm water into the Des Moines River.

Engineers are halfway through the design phase.

"The main backbone will take 450 acres of that 650-acre basin off," Seals said. "Then we'll have the pressure system take approximately 350 acres to the river and about 100 to 120 acres ... pumped over the levee."

This will help protect the Gateway Drive area, which was flooded out during last week's rainfall.

"And the main north side box is the main culprit as far as flooding Water Works," he said.

Wapello County Emergency Management coordinator Josh Stevens said his department put in a request in to Iowa Homeland Security to enact the Iowa Individual Assistance Program in the county.

He also encourages those finding damage to their homes to continue reporting them, since every time he receives information on damages, he passes that on to the state, which could then result in more funding.

Fire Chief Tony Miller said his department helped with a partial collapse of a building as well as evacuating people on the west end last week. Police Chief Tom McAndrew said there were no major problems besides people driving through water and getting stranded.

"We had at one time over 10 cars stranded in the water," he said.

Ned Van Nostrand, of SIEDA's housing department, is also working on providing state assistance for flash flood victims. So far, two disaster declarations cover Wapello County: one on April 19 for which the application deadline is June 20, the other for storms on or after May 19, for which the application deadline currently is July 16.

To qualify for assistance under either declaration, a resident's household income must be below 200 percent of the poverty level, which is typically $39,000 annually for a family of three.

Ted Ellis, Ottumwa Housing Authority technician, said the organization has funds in place — at most $10,000 per call — that residents can obtain for rehabilitation for any type of house damage from the floods.

OHA exeuctive director Dan Stroda also said the organization is providing emergency housing for those qualified residents who have been displaced by flash floods.

"Anybody who's been displaced by a natural disaster or needs time out of their home to do mold remediation or issues with foundation repairs, and it's not safe to be home, those are examples of when you can come apply to the housing authority," Stroda said. "But I stress that we are 98 percent occupied, so there might be a short waiting time before we get the appropriate size unit for your family size.

"I realize it's very difficult to do significant construction work to your home while you're trying to continue to live at your home."

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.

Resources for flash flood victims: -- SIEDA: 226 W. Main St., 641-682-8741 -- Ottumwa Housing Authority: 935 W. Main St., 641-682-8369 -- Southern Prairie Red Cross: 408 E. Main St., 641-682-4571 -- City public works: City Hall Room 304, 105 E. Third St., 641-683-0680 -- Wapello County Emergency Management: Law center, 330 W. Second St., 641-682-1414 -- Ottumwa Fire Department non-emergency line: 641-683-0666 -- Ottumwa Police Department non-emergency line: 641-683-0661