National News

1st looks at flooded Cedar Rapids, Iowa, homes

Posted June 15, 2008

— Four days after Greg Zach spotted the water coming toward his driveway, he was allowed back Sunday into what's left of his house on Cedar Rapid's southeast side.

Sniffing at the smell - a cross between mud and cigar smoke - Zach opened his basement door and his flashlight glinted off the waste-deep murky water below.

He'd have to knock the house down. All but the two-car garage, he said.

"Life's short and it's devastating, but we have the will," said Zach, a truck driver. "The biggest thing for us is we have all kinds of family and support. That means the world to us. We're going to pull together."

Zach, 51, was one of thousands of Cedar Rapids residents allowed back into their homes for the first time since a flood that left much of the city of 120,000 devastated. The water swamped 1,300 city blocks and forced 25,000 people from their homes, reaching the second stories of some structures.

For Zach and others, the day began with frustration with the city's system for granting access to flooded neighborhoods. He and his 32-year-old son were allowed to walk the mile to the home only after being turned away twice because the neighborhood hadn't been cleared by safety inspectors.

"There was a lot of miscommunication, a lot of stressfulness," he said. "I'm normally a patient person, but I had to get out of here before I exploded and got arrested."

It was a sentiment offered by many. Hundreds of people waited for hours at 10 checkpoints set up by the city before they were allowed into their neighborhoods.

Authorities said the system was essential considering possible electrical and structural hazards.

At another checkpoint, Rhonda Boots said she had waited much of the day to walk to her rental home. She had managed to get there earlier and see that her basement walls had caved in, but officers wouldn't let her past the checkpoint Sunday afternoon.

"Right now I'm mad. I feel like I'm getting the run-around and being put off," said Boots, 25. "They're not telling us anything."

Those who break the rules could be arrested, Police Chief Greg Graham said.

"We're going to have zero tolerance," Graham said. "It's for their safety and security of their property and the property in the area. They will be forced to leave."

And in the end, the shock of seeing their homes was far more powerful than the anger at being delayed.

Zach said he and his wife were young enough to rebuild, and he was eager to get started.

"I'll rebuild, but I'll just rebuild it higher next time," he said.

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