Volunteers stack sandbags outside the Geonetric building on Sept. 23 in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo district. PHOTO/ADAM MOORE
By Dave DeWitte
As the Cedar River rose this morning to 19 feet — about four feet shy of the 23-foot flood crest originally predicted for Tuesday afternoon — only about half of residents had vacated a voluntary evacuation area they were urged to leave over the weekend.
“I’m worried about overconfidence,” Mayor Pro Tem Justin Shields said after a special city council meeting Monday. “I’ve heard people say ‘I think you have this under control.'”
Public safety officials used the number of homes with electric lights still turned on to estimate how many had been evacuated by flying over the area with a drone last night. About half still had lights on.
The city has erected well over four miles of sand-filled Hesco barriers to try to protect low-lying areas from what’s predicted to be the second-highest flood crest in the city’s history, and has stabilized more than 250 manholes to keep water from rising up from storm sewers into the areas.
Director of Public Works Jen Winter said underground infrastructure is the city’s biggest concern today. She said seepage around the manholes is normal, but city crews will be watching for blowouts that could cause a flood.
City officials said citizens can help by minimizing water use to help an already overburdened wastewater treatment plant, by honoring the evacuation orders, and by staying out of the projected flood inundation zone.
“It’s just not safe to be in there,” Ms. Winter said, referring to the danger that the Hesco barrier system could be breached.
About 300 Iowa National Guard members were to be deployed this afternoon at checkpoints around the evacuation area.
Virtually all major businesses in the evacuation area had closed their doors today, although many smaller ones were operating remotely. City officials expect it to be about 48 hours after the flood crest Tuesday before the water retreats below dangerous levels, and have told residents to expect the evacuation to last about one week.
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