Flooding: a Familiar Word
A century and a quarter after Mayor Bloom sought help from the public for flood recovery, such a flood, such damage, and such a plea for assistance are not so unusual. Hannah Norton, reporting for KTIV News 4 from Cherokee on June 27, 2018, begins her story with the words “Flooding. It’s a word everyone in northwest Iowa is getting all too familiar with.” While city administrator Sam Koojker explains that the water is “tearing up the streets,” the mayor of Cherokee “has signed a disaster declaration asking for help from the state.” Major floods in 1993 and 2013 had prepared Cherokee residence for the worst. One hundred twenty years earlier the floodplain was a thriving business and residential district, but now folks have moved eastward, out of harm’s way–they hope.
June 15, 2013, reporter Nate Robson of The Sioux City Journal used the word “daunting” to describe the $2.7 million in damages to Cherokee County from one of the recent floods that had taught Cherokee residents some lessons. County Engineer David Shanahan said twenty-six bridges had been closed during the Memorial Day weekend flood and fourteen remained impassable due to damage. Bridge repairs alone were estimated at $2.415 million. Shanahan explained that the county didn’t have enough tax money to fix the roads even without the flood damage and certainly didn’t have the money to fix all of the bridges. Robson titled his article, “Severe Flooding Leaves Northwest Iowa Counties Looking for Federal Aid.”
Mayor Bloom’s words in 1891—“We feel we can not meet the immediate wants of all the people in distress”—are a heartfelt reminder of the effects of severe weather and also how those effects are not often felt by every resident equally. People may be more or less vulnerable because of where they live or how much income they have but also because of their age or health or many other things. For example, a 1957 article by Robert Rohwer of the Department of Economics and Sociology at ISU reports on a study from 1949 that compared the social status and occupational prospects of married farm operators/owners and married farm laborers (all men). Even in those optimistic times, Rohwer reports that farm owner-operators, with generational ties to the county, were far more likely to be connected to community organizations and to be far less isolated socially and economically than more recently arrived farm laborers and their families.
The floods of 1993 and 2013 may have taught Cherokee County residents not only the risks of living or owning businesses in the flood plain but also who in their communities are the people most in distress.
Sources: SHSI: Thomas McCulla, The History of Cherokee County, Chicago, 1914; Robert A. Rohwer, “The Social Status and Occupational Prospects of Married Farm Laborers in Cherokee County, Iowa, 1949” #452 (June 1957) Research Bulletins 448-488 Vol XXXIII, 1957-1960, pp.117-132; on-line: Hannah Norton, KTIV 4, June 27, 2018; Nate Robson, “Severe Flooding Leaves Northwest Iowa Counties Looking for Federal Aid,” The Sioux City Journal, June 15, 2013.