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AUSTIN EDITION Flood generates volunteer efforts

It was neighbor helping neighbor

By John Weiss

weiss@postbulletin.com

LeROY -- In June, Brittany Foster's home was destroyed by a tornado.

On Wednesday, she battled her second natural disaster of the summer by helping a friend whose home had flooded.

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Foster said Kylie Grant is a good friend, so she didn't hesitate to slip and slop in mud and water and handle gunky carpet. Foster was one of scores of volunteers, many of them pre-teens or teenagers, who responded after the Upper Iowa River leaped out of its banks early Wednesday, and ran into basements of several homes and businesses. The worst damage appeared to be along North Lowell Street, where Grant lives.

LeRoy was one of several towns along the Iowa border in Mower County to be hit with floods.

Josh Rowe, 14, and his friend Brennen Mensink, 13, got the grime-sloppy job of hauling away the carpet that Foster and friends took out of the house. The carpet had to be lugged up a small hill to a big trash bin.

Josh said he lives nearby. "Looks like they needed help," he said, so he came over. Besides, it's fun to get wet and muddy, he said.

Kylie's mother and stepfather, Kevin and Tracey Janssen, said they never dreamed the Upper Iowa would slam into their home. The river is usually 150 yards away, and after a 1993 flood, people built retaining walls that only needed to have sandbags put in openings to protect them, Kevin said.

Wrong.

'It was quick'

The water came so fast that it jumped over the walls and into homes, Kevin Janssen said. They knew flooding was a risk, but they didn't buy flood insurance because the river was so far away, Tracey Janssen said.

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Kari King, who lives next door, said they bought their home after the 1993 flood and also thought the river would never leap the wall. Then, about 6 a.m. Wednesday, the river began rising fast.

"We only had like 45 minutes, something like that. It was quick," she said.

Resting in the shade across the street was Rick Granaham, a member of the LeRoy Fire Department who helped rescue three people in nearby Adams and came back to help sandbag homes along Lowell. By early afternoon, he and other firefighters were exhausted.

He said he was paged out about 5:30 a.m. to help with sandbags. "It just came quickly, we couldn't keep up," he said. The water was much higher than the flood of 1993, he said, rising 10 to 15 feet.

While they were sandbagging, he and some others were called to Adams because the LeRoy department has a boat.

Granaham and other firefighters used the boat to rescue a husband and wife who were stranded by floodwaters that had risen up to the chairs in their home on the east side of Adams.

After rescuing the couple, the firefighters were called out again after a driver entered a flooded road and the man's car was swept down the river. The car lodged against two trees, and the firefighters' boat and a priest's personal watercraft were needed to rescue the driver.

After all that, and then returning to LeRoy to help with cleanup, Granaham said he was exhausted. He's going to see a chiropractor, he said.

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'A catastrophe' in Adams

Ron Smith and his wife, Alicia, were the two people Granaham helped rescue in Adams. Ron Smith said his wife woke him about 3:30 a.m. because the roof was leaking. When they looked outside to check on their dogs, they saw the tributary of the Little Cedar had flooded. "I never dreamed it was going to be a catastrophe," he said.

But it was. The water quickly rose to touch the garage and then the home. The water rose 2 to 3 feet an hour, and the home became an island.

The Smiths called the Law Enforcement Center, which sent out the emergency crew to rescue them. By the time help arrived, the water had dropped a bit, but the ditch between the home and road was up to 8 feet deep. "It was just a raging river," he said.

"It's pretty tough to overcome something like this, and if we stay here, you always wonder about the next time," Ron Smith said.

Spring Valley veteran

Ron Krieger knows about the next time. The Spring Valley man has seen three major floods, including Wednesday's, since 2000. But he has stayed. Unlike some other property owners, he decided he didn't want to sell his home along Spring Valley Creek. On Wednesday, the usually meek creek rose again.

"It just came up so quick," he said, much faster than before.

Fran Krieger said they don't have any option now.

"We will clean up and keep going," she said. "That's about all we can do."

"We're survivors," Ron Krieger said.

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