Friday, June 13, 2008

Good Lord, deliver us

We began compline at St. Johns Tuesday evening with The Great Litany, which I suppose could be described as the big gun for Episcopal prayer warriors --- if you can imagine such a thing --- covering as it does pleas for deliverance from just about every calamity that could befall us. The resonating petition here in Iowa this week:

"From lighting and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine, Good Lord, deliver us."

Cedar Rapids (the photo above) went under yesterday as the Cedar River swamped downtown and other low-lying areas, leaving thousands without homes in that city of 120,000. The drinking water supply there is in grave danger and the state is making plans to deal with a situation similar to, but far more critical than, the waterless state we faced here in Mason City this week (we still can't drink the water, by the way).

Iowa City, one of my old homes, is in grave danger from the Iowa River, and I've been thinking of all the University of Iowa assets right down there on or near its banks: The Iowa Memorial Union, University Library, Hancher Auditorium, the art center, the theater.

Des Moines seems to be holding its own against the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers --- so far. But it remains in danger. And of course everyone downstream from these beseiged cities on the Cedar, Iowa and Des Moines rivers faces great peril.

Good Lord, deliver us indeed.

These are very hectic days in newsrooms across the state --- especially in cities where flooding is occurring. Our colleagues at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier waded into their downtown building earlier in the week as flood waters rose, then were evacuated.

But if you want to see the most timely and best coverage of the floods of 2008 right now, go to the exceptional Web sites of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Everyone I think agrees now that these statewide floods are unprecedent in the collective memory of what we like to think of as civilized Iowa --- going back only to the first half of the 19th century. Even the great flood of 1851 seems to pale by comparison. But of course we don't know what earlier occupants of this good land experienced, or saw, as the millennia rolled along.

Sitting last night in the newsroom like spiders in the center of a vast web, trying to juggle, process, edit and present incoming reports from our own staff, those of our sister newspapers, The Associated Press, plus hundreds of great photographs and videos (when we have room for only a few), someone asked, "but why did they put these flooding cities right by the rivers anyway?"

Well, the answer is fairly simple. Before we had roads, railroads and airports, electricity, rivers were the principal transportation routes and sources of power. So our main (and many minor) cities were established right beside them. Their waters powered our mills. Out here on the prairie, in a smaller city like Mason City where the streams are not navigable, that water power was needed, too, as were the building materials provided by the trees and limestone bluffs along them.

And who could imagine in the 1830s, 1840s or 1850s that one day those ragtag collections of cabins would grow into comlex cities populated by thousands of people?

While most Iowans had great empathy for the people of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina swamped it, I do recall a degree of smugness as we set up here high and then dry higher on the Mississippi. Why would they build in such a place? Isn't it kind of their own fault? Shouldn't it just be abandoned and rebuilt on higher ground?

Nature has a way of wiping smugness from the faces of those of us who engage in it, as we're now seeing. So far no lives have been lost to the flooding here, and that is a mercy. But Good Lord, deliver us.


Ed Abbey said...

Iowa City seems to have been spared as the crest came several days early and a foot and a half short. Never the less, the University of Iowa has lost at least twelve buildings including all those in your list to flooding. Fortunately, IC's water treatment plant seems to have been spared but like Cedar Rapids, it is going to take months if not years to get things back together. We here in Van Buren county and still fighting the fight with the crest to hit sometime today.

Columbus Junction where the Iowa and Cedar rivers meet is getting devestated though. Their levees have already failed and the crest is yet to arrive there.

Craigs said...

I live in Cedar Rapids, and I can honestly say that our city has been changed forever.

Our house wasn't affected by the flooding, but our friends have lost homes and businesses.

So much continuing devastation!