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Page last updated at 18:13 GMT, Thursday, 26 August 2010 19:13 UK

Iowa town struggles to recover from flood


Linda Seger explains how her family rebuilt their home after the Iowa flood

By Franz Strasser
BBC World News America, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

A devastating flood hit the city of Cedar Rapids in Iowa two years ago and since then the city has been stuck in a slow rebuilding process. Many residents fear that the strict regulations put in place after Hurricane Katrina have hampered their town's recovery.

When the Cedar River swept into Iowa's second largest town in June 2008 it flooded over 400 city centre streets and left 1,500 properties ripe for demolition.

Some 1,200 businesses were affected by the water, but promises of financial support from the federal government were left unfulfilled, and many local business owners decided to take matters into their own hands.

"Within the past year we've gotten zero assistance," says Doug Schumacher, who owns A1 Rental in Cedar Rapids. "Recovery has primarily been done by individuals, their retirement accounts, and their bankers."

Czech Village
Many streets remain empty in Cedar Rapids, two years after the flood

The business community is barely surviving. Many are saddled with inflated debt and left with shrunken savings. The initial approach of self-reliance has left lasting consequences.

Some people took out private loans early on, to reopen stores and keep their customers, and intended them to be a buffer until federal money would repay them for their losses.

But now many have become familiar with the term 'duplication of benefits' - meaning they will not receive federal assistance after all.

"The government says 'because you initially helped yourself we won't help you'", says Nancy Kasparek, president of US Bank in Cedar Rapids.

Many people in Cedar Rapids say they have felt the ripple effects of Hurricane Katrina, 1,100 miles down the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

"Their disaster has become our disaster," says Greg Eyerly, Flood Recovery Director of the city.

Fraud and misspent funds following Hurricane Katrina five years ago set new laws in place which in turn tightened funds for the citizens of Cedar Rapids.

Across the river

Warren Wood on the flood's impact on his business and neighbourhood

Half of the businesses affected by the flood lie within the city's downtown area, from where it draws the majority of its tax revenue.

For those outside the centre, across the Cedar River in the Time Check and Czech Village neighbourhoods, the situation is worse.

The Sykora Bakery returned to Czech Village last year, rebuilding the business from scratch, only to find that its customers had gone.

"We had 200 houses behind us and they were all our customers and now all of a sudden it's a destination bakery where people have to drive down here," says Warren Wood, deli manager at the 80-year-old establishment.

It is the same story two miles north in Time Check. Even if Doug Ward wanted to reopen his family's restaurant, the A&W Diner, in its original location on Ellis Boulevard, his customer base no longer exists.

So Mr Ward is looking for a new location and in the meantime driving the school bus to keep him "out of trouble."

"I'm not going to spend another million or two to go back in there and in two years the city is going to come along and say 'well, the wall is going right through the middle of you,'" Mr Ward says.

"The wall" is a levee that is currently being reviewed by federal and local authorities. It divides the city into a proposed green zone with no future buildings on one side and the rest of the city on the other.


Linda Seger
A lot of us are pioneers, settlers that came and built the nation and we are embarrassed to ask for help
Linda Seger

Within the green zone, the city has not forced anybody out, says Chuck Wienecke, who represents the Time Check area in the city council.

"If you want to stay there now, stay there. But at some point we will have to ask people to move."

According to Mr Wienecke, eight in 10 residents within the construction zone want to move.

"If you want to leave, we are going to buy out your home. The bad news is I can't promise that it's going to be done as quickly as you like."

Linda Seger and her family did not want to wait, and decided to rebuild the family home on the edge of the construction zone.

"We had no idea how we were going to do it because we're modest people in our sixties and didn't have a large amount of money," says Mrs Seger, who relied mainly on family support and labour, with help from her six children and 15 grandchildren.

The fact that the plight of Cedar Rapids has dropped off the national radar is partly to blame on the residents and business owners themselves, Mrs Seger thinks.

"We are resilient people and we rebuild and rebound on our own. A lot of us are pioneers, settlers that came and built the nation and we are embarrassed to ask for help."

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