Cornell supports flood recovery

With hundreds of blocks under water, billions in damages, thousands forced from homes, and roads made impassable by flood water, the floods of 2008 tore a hole through the state. It’s a disaster of unparalleled proportion in Iowa, as downtown Cedar Rapids was completely submerged, and much of Iowa City as well.

Perched on the Hilltop, Cornell was in a position to help the surrounding community. As flood waters crested a few miles away, Cornell erupted with activity as all of the West Campus residence halls were occupied for nearly a month with victims or those involved in recovery. Displaced businesses like Shuttleworth and Ingersoll, and clean-up companies like ServiceMaster took root in classrooms and residence halls. American Red Cross volunteers brought in to help with the crisis found rooms in Merner and Olin. Sheltered women and children found temporary homes in Clock Tower Hall, and Iowa State Troopers and even a few Coe students took up residence.

The honorary Hilltoppers were all appreciative of the shelter during this trying time.

“Yippee. Hooray. Hallelujah. Thank goodness for Cornell,” said Sue Byrd of the Red Cross. “Everyone has gone 1000 percent above and beyond; it’s been wonderful.”

In total, 677 Red Cross volunteers from as far away as Guam, Alaska, and Puerto Rico took up residence in Olin and Merner from June 14-July 8, after which the residence halls had to be prepared for a large first-year class. Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, the chair of the board of the Red Cross, and Mary Elcano, acting president and CEO of the Red Cross, were among those who stayed in Merner alongside the volunteers, not long after touring the damage with President George Bush.

“We’re glad we had space for you,” Vice President for Student Affairs John Harp told the Red Cross on campus. “You’ve put your lives on hold to help Iowans. You’ve been wonderful guests. We’d like to have you again … for a visit, not a flood.”

Meanwhile, there were cribs in Clock Tower for nearly a month, where 60 women, children, and livein staff from Heart of Iowa took refuge. “I can’t believe how amazing Cornell has been to us,” said Wanda Sellers of Heart of Iowa. “We’re absolutely floored.”

And though Cornell itself was spared, a number of employees were affected by the flooding. Many found themselves unable to even report to work, as Highways 30, 380, and 1 were all overtaken by flood waters. To make matters worse, Highway 1, the major artery connecting Mount Vernon with Iowa City, buckled under the water, collapsing as if an earthquake had shaken it apart.