North Cedar student rises above anxieties in Cedar River’s second highest flood ever

By Mallorie Sckerl

Standing in my kitchen on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 22, I gingerly set down the peanut butter-covered knife before it could slip from my fingers and crash to the floor. My sack lunch was suddenly the farthest thing from my mind. I must’ve misheard him. My dad couldn’t really be telling me that this was happening. Not again. But I didn’t cry.

Before school, I sat in a hallway surrounded by people, zero percent of whom had any idea what was about to happen. I was already drowning inside my head. I frantically downloaded and searched through a dozen weather apps, praying that one of them would tell me I was over reacting, that this wasn’t real life.

A friend finally realized something was off. I told him I didn’t want to go to our cross country meet. I wanted to go home. He assumed it was because I was afraid of road closing and joked, “You can just ride a boat home tonight.” I didn’t laugh.

I spent my math work day scouring the web for any updates on river levels, predictions, outlooks, past records, anything I could get my hungry eyes on. I got so worked up I left class early because I couldn’t just sit there anymore.

I went to the band room and waited for fourth hour to start, never taking my eyes off of the screen in front of me. When the power went out and we lost access to the Internet that afternoon, everyone went into a bit of an excited tizzy. I didn’t notice.

We were in Dubuque at our cross country meet when I found out school had been cancelled. I called my mom. I asked her to come get me. I wanted to go home. I was crying. She told me to breathe, calm down, and that she and Dad were already moving things out of the basement. We would talk more about it when I got home. I didn’t calm down.

On the bus ride home, I called my mom again. Tears stung my eyes for the millionth time that day, something all of us non-criers hate. Angry, burning, rageful tears. I couldn’t take the celebrations anymore. My favorite comment of the night was, “Thank God for this flood! I really didn’t feel like doing my algebra homework tonight!”

I didn’t really feel like watching my house get destroyed that weekend. I wanted to scream, to yell, to make them all understand. This was not a celebration. Homes, businesses, livelihoods, families and so much more was about to be damaged, potentially beyond repair. How dare you cheer and celebrate.

My mom said I had to be the bigger person. I wanted to be small. I wanted them to understand the hurt and suffering and the horrible memories. I wanted, at the very least, to ask them to stop. I didn’t say anything.

When my brother and I finally got home that night, half of our basement’s contents were strewn across the floor of the garage. My stressed, exhausted parents asked us to shower and then sent us out, and each of us spent the evening somewhere that wasn’t home. They thought it would be easier for us. I didn’t think it was.

The next morning, we woke up at 6 a.m. Immediately, my dad, brother and I got to work. Sofas went up on sawhorses, clothes got thrown in baskets, pictures got toted upstairs. A family friend brought out a trailer from, Warren and we loaded in some of our dressers and cabinets, and the in-home daycare across the street moved all of their toys, furniture and appliances in as well before the semi was driven away to a safe, dry location.

People started sandbagging. I got invitations to go out and “help the community.” People forgot that I was part of the affected community in this situation, that I was helping my own home. I didn’t forget.

As the town began sandbagging along the south side of the river to protect the downtown area, river levels continued to rise. We had some fun loading couches into the backs of trucks, and my brother and I sat on them as we drove them around to higher ground.

A procession of lawn mowers, aerators, snowblowers, and ATVs paraded through our neighborhood as old men worked to keep their beloved lawn care supplies safe.

A friend rode around with me as I moved things back and forth to safe locations. He remained calm and optimistic, something that’s all too easy to be until it’s your house on the line. I didn’t stay so peaceful.

Friday evening, old neighbors stopped out to offer some last minute help. We reflected on the flood of 2008 and the impact it left on everyone. Some, like my family, chose to elevate their homes to decrease the likelihood of flooding again. Others took the city’s buy-out and chose to walk away, though it’s nearly impossible to walk away from the memories that continue to drown your mind. Looking back on certain memories, we all laughed. Looking back on others, tears may or may not have returned. I didn’t cry then.

That night I scrolled through my Instagram feed in another attempt to distract myself from the rising river levels. I was struck speechless by the number of flood-related photos I saw.

But what really stuck out to me were the captions. People referenced the weekend’s events as “ironic” and “peaceful.” Even local newscasters shot their morning broadcasts along the banks of the Cedar River in a style similar to what they would use at a firework display or a downtown festival.

I was extremely grateful to those who had taken the time to help, of course. However, I was dumbfounded by the number of folks who had used this crisis as a photo-op and sometimes even a joke. Some of those pictures racked up up a lot of likes. I didn’t like them.

That night, my mom sent my brother and I away again to a downtown hotel. The city had turned off our gas. No oven, no stove, no hot water. Not enough room in the house if all four of its inhabitants and their possessions were confined to just the first floor. My mom thought it would help us sleep better, being a bit more removed from the situation. I didn’t sleep at all.

Saturday morning, my mother took us out on a “tour” of North Cedar so we could look at the water levels. We ate Cheetos. So did our dog who accompanied us on our expedition. I took pictures of the closed roads, the abandoned elementary school, the people stranded in their houses, perched atop walls of sandbags just watching the water creep toward their homes.

Some people, obviously not from this part of town, walked and drove around just for fun, taking pictures and looking at the kayakers and canoers. Many offered no help or support. Some even got in the way. I didn’t want them there.

Sometime Saturday afternoon, the predictions dropped. The water was no longer expected to get as high as we had once feared. Just under 99 feet was still the second highest crest in history, but thankfully it meant my basement wouldn’t flood. We watched the Nebraska football game, feeling slightly more light-hearted than we had in what seemed like ages. My brother and I stayed in a hotel again that night as our gas wouldn’t be turned back on again until Sunday morning. We celebrated with ice cream. I didn’t have any trouble sleeping.

Sunday was move-(back)-in day. Clothing, drum sets, cabinet drawers and more were all moved once again back into their rightful places. De-sandbagging efforts began in certain locations, and another announcement went out that there would be no school the following day.

Once again, it was extremely disheartening to see the number of students taking to social media to celebrate the extended weekend. Tweets and snaps went out about further procrastination and last minute hang-outs. I wanted to post something about remembering and respecting the students who were homeless. The kids who would’ve given anything to go back to school on Monday just like normal, who wished they could’ve erased the weekend’s events from existence. I didn’t post anything.

On Monday, members of the men’s cross country team came out to help unload the daycare supplies and furniture from the Warren trailer. They worked, ate muffins and breakfast pizza, and worked some more.

As everyone got into their cars to go back to their regular lives that morning, I heard one boy say, “Well now that the flood is over…” I was very grateful for his help, but I very much wanted to remind him that, while this strange weekend may be over for him, it was just beginning for many families. Just like there are two sides to every story, there are two sides to the Cedar River. I didn’t comment.

A week later, much of Cottage Row remained underwater. The city pumped water out of streets as families began pumping water out of their homes. Piles of wet sandbags and soggy drywall accumulated on curbs. “Local tourists” continued to trek through flooded neighborhoods simply to gawk at the damage. A sign appeared on the corner of Cottage Row and Center St. that read, “If you are not here to help keep out!”

It’s not that we weren’t extremely grateful for the many, many people who donated supplies and time to benefit the cleanup efforts. It’s just that the people who only want to observe. I didn’t understand that.

I wasn’t really sure if I was going to write this article. Honestly, I was afraid that some people might take offense to some of the things I wrote. Please know that my intention was never to make anyone feel targeted. I simply wanted to share my side of the story. My side of the river. I didn’t think it should go unheard.

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