Lisa Gavin scrambled through her home with garbage bags on June 12, 2008, throwing in the things she thought she and her 7-year-old son would need for their temporary living arrangements. She also looked for items she most wanted to save.
She didn’t have time to think it through. Her home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was flooding, and she had never planned for it.
“It was not even on my radar that this could happen,” Lisa says.
When she purchased the house seven years earlier, the realtors had laughed off a question about the potential for flooding. Her home is a mile and a half from the river, they noted. Even during the devastating Iowa floods of 1993, they said, only a small amount of water seeped into the house. The location was classified as low risk for flooding.
“It was not even on my radar that this could happen.”
Like many people, Lisa did not realize that low risk does not mean no risk. In June 2008 — after a wet fall, snowy winter, and wet spring — heavy rains caused the worst flooding in the city’s history.
By June 12, the Cedar River was already 17 feet above flood stage and rising — with more rain on the way. Lisa’s home had six inches of water in the basement. Her sump pump was overwhelmed by the inflow.
“I really thought I would lose my house,” Lisa recalls.
She was relieved when she did not. Lisa knows she was luckier than many people in her community. But the damage from the water that poured into her basement was much worse than she expected.
Everything had been tossed around, including her dryer, which floated in the floodwaters. Her freezer upended and spilled its contents, making the basement “smell like someone had died in there.” Water currents damaged the home’s foundation. The drywall, insulation, and electrical systems needed to be replaced.
“I had no idea how much damage floodwater can do,” Lisa says.
Lisa is more prepared now.
Contractors installed a drainage system to redirect water that seeps through foundation walls to underground trenches. These trenches funnel the water away from her home.
She also had workers install a double sump pump with a battery backup. If one pump can’t keep up with the inflow of water, the second will kick in. The battery will keep it working if the power goes out. A sump pump alarm alerts her if the pump is failing to keep the water in the sump pit from rising too high.
“I had no idea how much damage floodwater can do.”
She has stored important documents, family mementos, and emergency supplies in bins she can get to within minutes. And she has made multiple plans for where she and her son could seek shelter in an emergency, in case her first options are not available.
The change in preparation and mindset already has made a difference. In 2016, when flooding again threatened the area, she and her neighbors took it more seriously and acted quickly. They placed sandbags around their homes. They cleared out their basements. When possible, they moved things into storage facilities. Lisa and her son evacuated in advance.
“Everything was totally different in 2016,” Lisa says, “because we’d all been through it before.”