Flood 2016


The Cedar River swelled to dangerous levels over the weekend, prompting action across Northeast Iowa. Sandbagging efforts commenced from Waverly to Cedar Falls and from Waterloo to Cedar Rapids.

According to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, the Cedar River in Cedar Falls crested at over 98 feet around 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, which was the second-highest recorded crest ever for the city.

Cedar Falls community members were joined by students from UNI, and both groups worked hand in hand in the sandbagging efforts on Friday, Sept. 23 and the morning of Saturday, Sept. 24. Students came alone and in groups representing various student organizations to help.

A group ranging from 15 to 20 Sigma Phi Epsilon members came to volunteer on Friday. Alex Smith, a freshman accounting  and finance investment double major, was one of them.

“I’m from SigEp, and thought it was really cool that all of us came out here to volunteer,” Smith said. “And this is my first year so I think that’s really cool that there’s people – even strangers – that aren’t from this community that are willing to help out.”

Smith described Cedar Falls’ sandbagging efforts on Friday night as a “supply chain.”

“There’s dump trucks coming in and out. There’s numerous volunteers scooping the sand, putting them in bags,” Smith said. “There’s almost, like, a supply chain going from worker to worker. And they got some skid loaders running them up and down to the levy.”

Laura Roman, a freshman personal wealth management major, turned back from her trek to Waterloo to help with the sandbagging efforts after hearing about it on the radio.

“Everyone is incredibly nice, and we’re just doing our best as fast as possible to help out and not let our downtown be destroyed,” Roman said.

Gretchen Kramer, a sophomore social work major, came to sandbag alone, going to the site early at 6 p.m.

“I tried to come here with my friends and none of them would come. So now I’ve got all these new friends,” Kramer said. “Honestly, I think it’s really great that everyone came out together and is willing to help […] UNI students don’t really get impacted by any of this this, but they’re still willing to come out and help. So I think that’s [a] really important, sense of community.”

Kelso Breitsprecher, a fifth-year senior theatre performance major, went to help with other students from the theater department.

“A bunch of theater kids met up with me. We jumped in my van and drove down here, and we’ve been down here for a few hours,” Breitsprecher said. “And there’s been hundreds of people down here from all walks of life – people from the community college, people from UNI, high school students, older gentlemen, children. It’s a little heartwarming.”

“Everybody’s incredibly friendly, they’re all happy,” Smith said. “Even in the worst of times, they all have a smile on their face.”

Another student organization, the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers (UNIFI), organized members to help in downtown Cedar Rapids on Saturday. Natalie Kaufman, a senior philosophy and psychology double major was one of the UNIFI members who volunteered.

“We are going to help because people need us to,” Kaufman. “UNIFI is a humanist organization, committed to helping those that need it most.” A group of 15 to 20 students were set to go and help.

“At this point, any and all efforts will help,” Kaufman continued. “While this flood is not predicted to be as bad as the ‘08 flood, it is an undeniable fact that parts of the city and people’s houses will have some sort of water damage. Helping to sandbag, or even helping move their things from their basements to higher ground, are small things we can do. If everyone does a small thing, we can create big change.”

At the end of Friday night, Breitsprecher said, “It’s been hard work, but it feels rewarding knowing it’s going toward a good cause, knowing that it’s going to help people when the water […] starts to rise.”

Up to date flood coverage, along with sandbagging efforts, can be accessed through the City of Cedar Falls website.

NI staff writer Jacob Madden helped contribute to this story.