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2008 Flood: Volunteers reflect on historic Mason City recovery efforts (with photos)

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MASON CITY | Teamwork.

That’s what Steve O’Neil, Cerro Gordo County Emergency Management coordinator, and Sandi Lincoln, a former Mason City resident, real estate agent and American Red Cross volunteer, remember 10 years after the Winnebago River climbed to a record 18.57 feet and flooded homes, forced residents to evacuate, shut down the city’s water treatment plant and closed all city restaurants.

“Everywhere I turned, I was just blown away by the community,” she said, on the phone from her six-year residence in Prior Lake, Minnesota, earlier this week. “That still sticks with me today. We all got over that in such an amazing way. It was unbelievable.”

The historic flooding event prompted city, county and state government, law enforcement, fire, medical and emergency officials to rally beside individuals, businesses and organizations volunteering to keep the city, and its residents, afloat during a time of crisis.

Lincoln said one of her primary roles as an American Red Cross volunteer during the flood was coordinating local businesses to provide food, so volunteers could work around the clock.

“It was just unreal,” Lincoln said, recalling heartbreaking neighborhood devastation.

O’Neil, who’s been the county emergency management coordinator for nearly 20 years, had just returned to Mason City after helping the city of Parkersburg recover from a tornado, when the flooding began.

The flood is the city’s worst, affecting nearly every facet of the community, he said.

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“I definitely don’t think we need a repeat just because it’s been 10 years,” O’Neil said.

He said the situation was made better by some of the city and county procedures in place that have since been built upon. Emergency personnel and volunteers can “respond better and faster than the last time.”

A wide variety of individuals involved in local emergency disaster response meet monthly to train, discuss areas of exploration, like shelter, and develop plans that help things move smoothly during a disaster.

O’Neil said the county recently completed its hazard mitigation planning, which includes input from all communities.

“The best prepared community is when the individuals start doing their own preparing,” he said, adding like creating emergency kits. “Just doing those things helps the entire community, because no matter how big, your resources become overwhelmed, the more that each person does to prepare themselves, the more that can be focused on the areas of greatest need.”

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Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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