A Moderate May Flood
There is a thing that sometimes happens in storytelling where the audience knows something that the characters don’t. Dramatic irony, it’s called. Knowing about the September 2019 flooding on the Missouri River while writing or reading about Fremont County residents’ experience during the May 2019 flooding on the Missouri River creates that odd feeling of dramatic irony.
In May, Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain praised her town’s head of Public Works and other men of the town for adding three feet, of gravel and sand, to the town’s five-foot levee. The five-foot levee was supposed to contain a flood of 22 feet in the Missouri River. Building up that levee in 2011 had kept the flood waters out of the town, for the most part. But the city lacked the money permanently to raise the levee in a manner that met federal standards. So in May 2019 they were adding temporary height again. The extra height on the levee in May 2019 did the trick. The river crested at 22.8 feet and the 8-foot levee, though seeping, kept most of the water out.
But the city had not been so fortunate in March 2019 when the levee was topped and buildings in the town saw ten feet of water. The town was evacuated; all 32 businesses were closed.
Although in May a wall of HESCO barriers was still in place through the middle of Hamburg unnerving residents, 9 of the 32 businesses had been able to reopen. One of these was Stoner Drugs, the only pharmacy in town. Stoner’s also has a soda fountain that, in the past, had attracted a nice passing trade from travelers on Interstate 29 not far away. But in May 2019, I-29 to Kansas City was still closed. So no travelers to boost ice cream soda sales. The town of Percival 17 miles north of Hamburg was still, in May, only accessible by boat.
In May, the ice cream aside, Hamburg remained a food desert. The city has no grocery store. The single restaurant, damaged by the March flood, remained closed. The Casey’s convenience store, was a popular source for food, especially pizza, but since the flood Casey’s in Hamburg had not been offering pizza. The Salvation Army had been serving meals out of a truck by City Hall for 70 days.
Des Moines Register reporter Shelby Fleig’s important interviews with Hamburg Mayor Cathy Crain and Fremont County Emergency Management Director Mike Crecelius capture some of the emotion experienced by Fremont County residents on farms and in towns. Speaking of the Corps of Engineers’ description of the May flood as moderate, Crecelius observed, “What they call moderate flooding and how my farmers around here feel about it are two different things….We have no protection out there (in Hamburg and surrounding territory). High water and bad weather could very well wash away everything they’ve done.” Mayor Crain explained, “We’ve never had to fight the Missouri like we do now, but the world has changed.”
Sources: on-line: Shelby Fleig, “’They’re heroes,’” The Des Moines Register, May 31, 2019; Stoner Drugs, tripadvisor.com; Fremont County Emergency Management, co.fremont.ia.us.