Now, in the aftermath of recent floods that raged through parts of seven Midwestern states leaving 24 dead, driving tens of thousands from their homes and ravaging billions of dollars worth of property and 5 million acres of farmland—officials are beginning to take stock of their plans and how they worked.
“If disaster was going to hit and seniors were going to be affected, this was a good place to be because the people there were ready and well organized,” says McCalley. State records that show 1,922 residents in half a dozen long-term care facilities were evacuated safely and without incident. “In Linn County,” McCalley says, “disaster teams moved an entire hospital, including intensive care patients, in just hours.”
Cedar Rapids, the second-largest city in Iowa, was one of the hardest-hit areas in the seven-state flood area. But officials say that only one person died—in a flood-related car accident—even though the Cedar River, which runs right through the town, crested at nearly 32 feet, flooding 1,300 city blocks, including 3,900 homes.
The county, officials say, had lists of older or disabled people who would need help evacuating their homes, and buses were there to help them escape the rising waters. Schools had been prepared to open as shelters, and there were special shelters for pets and even volunteers to pick up the animals if their owners were not able to transport them. People were instructed to tie white cloths to their doors when they evacuated their homes, so rescue workers did not waste time with empty houses.
“When the river started to rise,” says Selk, “people who rely on our Meals on Wheels service were given extra frozen dinners and food, so if volunteers couldn’t deliver the meals they would have something to eat.” Selk says that the two Meals on Wheels kitchens in Cedar Rapids were submerged in the floodwater, “but they set up in schools and we didn’t miss a day of service.”
Even many animals fared well in this disaster, says Selk, whose office is in the Kirkwood Community College, which set up one of the shelters for pets.
“An older man came in yesterday to claim his dog,” she says smiling. “They brought the dog out, and he said, ‘That’s not my dog.’ He kept saying that. But it turned out that it was his dog—he didn’t recognize it right away because volunteers had washed the dog and groomed it, and it looked so much better!”