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Flood of 2008: North Iowa deluged (with photos)

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Flood of 2008: North Iowa deluged (with photos)
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Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the June 9, 2008, Globe Gazette, the day after historic flooding hit Mason City and North Iowa. Recovery efforts lasted days, service restoration took weeks and rebuilding dragged on for several years.

MASON CITY — The Winnebago River made history Sunday and left misery in its wake.

The river, which weaves through Mason City, climbed to a record 18.57 feet, tumbling over its banks, flooding homes, forcing residents to evacuate, shutting down the city’s water treatment plant and closing all city restaurants.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, the river level was 18.57 feet; the previous record was 15.7 feet set in 1933. Flood stage is 7 feet.

Heavy rains late Saturday and early Sunday morning — more than 5 inches over the two-day period — started the river rising.

“It went from 13 to 17 feet very quickly,” said Brent Trout, Mason City’s city administrator. “We’re dealing with a record event here.”

Gov. Chet Culver issued a disaster declaration which covered 31 Iowa counties including Butler, Cerro Gordo, Franklin, Floyd and Worth in North Iowa.

The governor’s proclamation activates Iowa’s individual disaster assistance program. Additionally, federal agencies have been contacted, according to Culver’s office.

Late Sunday afternoon Mason City Mayor Roger Bang set a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., except for employment or essential purposes.

Residents were told that anyone in violation would be charged with refusal to obey orders.

As the river left its banks and the levy system failed, water made its way to basements, across roadways and a major evacuation effort ensued.

The Mason City fire and police departments used a boat to help residents from their already flooded homes.

Several hundred residents were also evacuated throughout the morning.

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Officials did not have an exact number of homes that were evacuated, but said the evacuation appeared to be complete by mid-afternoon.

“We believe all the homes that need to be evacuated at this point, have been evacuated,” said Trout.

The Red Cross established a shelter for people forced from their homes.

The Holy Family Catholic Church was used until the city’s water supply was affected by the flood.

At 11 a.m., there were approximately 50 people at the shelter.

At noon, the city’s water supply was interrupted as the city’s water treatment plant was closed.

Hours later, the Red Cross moved the shelter to the Clear Lake Middle School, where there was water available.

Also affected throughout the day were the city’s traffic patterns. Streets that weren’t filled with water were filled with spectators, anxious to see flooding.

“For the people that want to go out and about we say please don’t,” said Police Chief Mike Lashbrook. “It is interfering with our resources and the effort to deal with the flooding.”

Road-closed barricades were placed throughout town, from the city’s northern edge, at Highway 65 to 12th Street, to Monroe and Illinois avenues, and many points beyond. Police and city crews were working frantically, attempting to keep up with water crossing roadways.

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