Peoples' Weather Map


Sandbagging Businesses in 1993

Johnson County, Iowa

Emma Husar


There was a flood truck driving through Coralville’s business district the summer of 1993. Doug Kidd, the owner of the truck and of Donutland called it “the dry spot.” Only by virtue of his diligent sandbagging efforts was he able to protect their electric, phone and gas—and donuts! Kidd waited out the rising waters in early July in a sleeping bag inside his store after spending a full day surrounding it in sandbags. While his efforts paid off, numerous other businesses along the Coralville strip did not withstand the intensive rain and rising water levels. It was reported that 200 businesses and residential customers were out of electricity, that being the majority of the strip. 

Donut Land deliveries through flood waters

In order to keep business flourishing he grabbed his truck and began to deliver some donuts and coffee to places like the Heartland Inn and Alamo motels, with sales averaging ten dollars an hour. 

Similarly in Iowa City, on South Gilbert Street, building owner Mike Cilek gathered a group of volunteers to add some 2,000 to 3,000 sandbags to an already six-sandbag-high wall to salvage three businesses within the building. Cilek was concerned that the second round of flooding would be worse than the first: “we can’t predict what will happen” and all the sandbagging could be for nothing. 

Coralville strip with businesses underwater

This was a time of mass uncertainty. Lon Drake, professor of geology at the University of Iowa, expressed concern about sandbagging practices. He noted in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, “Many of the sandbag walls and levees hurriedly built over the last few days are poorly constructed and may not withstand another rise in river levels.” He warned that any walls over 3 feet high are inclined to fail; plastic sheets must be built within and sealed tight to the earth; and sandbags should only be half filled so to seal tightly to one another. 

Some residents and businesses flooded despite their sandbagging efforts and refused to repeat that disappointment as the river levels continued to rise. The struggle for food, for dry land and for effective sandbag levees continued throughout the summer, the most devastating of months being between June and August, with effects lasting long past the waters’ withdrawal. 

Loans to businesses in Johnson County alone were estimated at $842,992 of the $3 million allocated to 11 Iowa counties. Fortunately small businesses were offered loans with low interest to help them rebuild. 

Flooded Business on South Gilbert St.
Sandbag diagram
 Sources: SHSI: Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 6, 1993-July 14, 1993.