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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 23, 2018

Hurricanes slow flood recovery in Butler County

By By Christinia Crippes, Waterloo Courier | Oct 10, 2017

ALLISON — The trio of hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — have wreaked havoc and left a mess to clean up in their wake across Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. They have also had far-reaching impacts beyond their immediate path.

That includes in Northeast Iowa, where residents of Butler County are still recovering from the fall floods of 2016.

“I think they kind of feel forgotten. Especially with the hurricanes and everything, that we’ve been forgotten,” said Clarksville Mayor Val Swinton. “Because we’re a small town, we kind of feel like we’re not important. That’s a little frustrating.”

“That’s a lot frustrating,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said in response.

Ernst, a first-term senator, asked for the meeting Monday with Butler County and city officials to hear an update a little over a year after the cities of Clarksville, Greene and Shell Rock suffered their second “flood to end all floods” in eight years.

While Ernst could assure the officials and residents the funds that have been obligated for home buyouts would not be rerouted to aid in hurricane recovery, she could offer little else than her shared frustration that 13 months later no homes had finished the buyout process. Ernst also promised to follow up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see why the process has been so slow.

Frustration was the theme through the hour-long meeting.

About 270 homes had some damage after the Shell Rock River flooded when Butler County received 12 inches of rain in a short period of time. Butler County emergency management coordinator Mitch Nordmeyer said many areas in Greene, Clarksville and Shell Rock saw higher levels of floodwater than the 2008 flood.

Of those homes, about 20 homes had qualified for a buyout and have gone forward with the process. More than a year later, none of those homeowners had received an offer after their paperwork was submitted to FEMA, and the expectation is it could be another three to four months.

“You know as well as anybody that we tell everybody that every disaster starts and ends locally. That may be the case, but we need the federal help in the middle,” Nordmeyer said.

Nordmeyer and Brian Schoon, of Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments, told Ernst it has not just been the slow process but also the changes that have been frustrating. That includes learning some rules had changed from eight years ago, when the region went through the last major flood event, and also having to work with new officials every few weeks.

Once the hurricanes hit, the frustration grew as they said they found FEMA Region 7 officials had been sent to work on recovery in the southeast to aid other understaffed regions.

Ernst said after the meeting that it’s important for FEMA to have rules and regulations that are uniform and apply to everyone, but she heard from local officials Monday that FEMA employees haven’t always interpreted the rules in the same way. She said she would go back to Washington, D.C., to inquire about that as well.

“We saw widespread devastation throughout the southeast, and I do understand that, but again, we have ongoing recovery efforts right here in Region 7 of FEMA, and we have to make sure these families are getting what was told to them they would get,” Ernst said. “It’s important that they close these actions out before they are jumping into other situations.”

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