By Glenn Leach
COLFAX — Nearing the Colfax exit on Interstate 80, signs of flooding appear: standing water in the fields, dead crops and expanses of mud. Driving down Iowa 117 into Colfax, the muddy fields and areas where rushing water has carved out large sections of earth give evidence that the South Skunk River, now placidly flowing by, has recently been a raging torrent.
Three days of heavy rains culminated in local flooding on Aug. 11 and then, as the effects of the rain to the north swept downstream, the South Skunk River crested again, this time more severely. Levees constructed in the wake of flooding in 1993 were overrun by as much as 2 feet of water in some places.
“We had no real warning,” said Deacon Joe Dvorak, parish life administrator of Immaculate Conception Parish in Colfax. “Just as the rising water told us we had to start moving folks, we were hit again with the water coming down stream.”
Deacon Dvorak opened the door to the parish hall where a distribution center of clothing, toys and small appliances has been set up for donations to flood victims. “The response from the community has been so great that we have even reached out to the victims of an explosion and fire in the Des Moines area. This distribution center moved here from the Christian Church, so they would have room to feed volunteers and victims. All the churches are taking turns preparing meals there.”
About 160 homes in a 20-square-block area saw up to 3 feet of water running through the first floors while perhaps 200 more had to deal with several feet of backed up sewer water, Deacon Dvorak said. The view from Kelly to West between State and Division streets looked similar to the cities of Iowa hit by the 2008 flooding, with furniture, damaged structural materials and valued family possessions heaped on the curb awaiting disposal. “As is so often the case,” he said, “many of the flood victims were already struggling in today’s economy.”
Colfax is a city of hills and low spots, which resulted in additional homes being flooded. The city athletic park, once an expanse of green with baseball and soccer fields, is now a sea of mud with high-water marks on the walls of the park’s buildings. All of the buildings in the county fairgrounds saw several feet of water, including the 4-H building, which has been a popular site for wedding receptions and other celebrations in better times.
“People helping their neighbors has been a big part of the response,” Deacon Dvorak said, “and we have been blessed with volunteers from faith communities from many different states.” Much remains to be done, however, and FEMA and other long-term recovery agencies have been gearing up to help. In many cases the cost of reconstructing homes will exceed the FEMA grants and other aid sources.
Those interested in helping folks in Colfax or other parts of Jasper County that sustained damage can send donations to the United Way of Jasper County, P.O. Box 844, Newton, IA, 50208, or call (641) 792-1684. Checks should indicate they are for flood relief and if they are exclusively for Colfax or Jasper County.