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Ex-flood victims glad they moved

By Tim Ruzek

truzek@postbulletin.com

Cindy Bellrichard got a flashback Thursday while helping with sandbags near rising floodwaters.

The stress and smell that goes with floodwaters reminded Bellrichard of the struggles her family endured several times while living by the Cedar River near Austin’s Wildwood Park.

"The memories came back real fast," she said Friday.

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Cindy and Larry Bellrichard had held back water with sandbags, including in 1993. But they had major damage in 2000 with 4 feet of water in their split-level home’s basement, and in the record 2004 flood with 6 feet of water.

After the ’04 flood, the Bellrichards were one of 15 homeowners in their neighborhood to accept the city’s acquisition offer through its flood-relief program. If she hadn’t moved, Thursday’s flood likely would have put 3 feet of water in their old home’s basement.

Other residents and business owners likely are feeling relief for having moved out of the flood plain.

The Wildwood homes were among 19 structures approved last fall by the city council for demolition.

City Engineer Jon Erichson said on Friday that a resident near those homes was happy Thursday’s flood caused no sewer backup in her home. Alleviating those backups was one of the Wildwood project’s goals.

More than 270 structures have been acquired and removed from Austin’s flood plain since 1978.

This spring, demolition crews again started removing flood-prone structures, including a warehouse on Eighth Avenue Southeast, a home just south of Interstate 90 and, as of Monday, a big commercial building along the Cedar River on Oakland Avenue East.

The former B&J Bar on Oakland Avenue East was demolished this spring.

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On Friday, Tim Ball, co-owner of the B&J Bar, said the frequent, severe flooding was why his business accepted the city’s acquisition and relocated downtown. The bar had 4 feet of water in 2000 and 6 feet in ’04.

"I feel for those (flood victims). I know what they’re going through," said Ball, who closed his flood-prone location in May 2007.

A day after yet another major flood in Austin, Jim Baldus was leading the crew at his SuperValu grocery store but, unlike other floods, this time just in the regular operations. There was no cleanup necessary.

The ’04 flood shut down SuperValu for a month, Baldus said. Flooding in 2000, a slightly higher level than Thursday’s event, closed it for two weeks.

Two years after the ’04 flood, SuperValu reopened about a block north on 11th Street Northeast, moving to higher ground along with a barbershop and liquor store also affected by flooding.

The Eagles Club is nearby after relocating from its flood-prone spot following the 2004 flood.

Baldus said he’s glad he doesn’t have to repeat the filthy cleanup process.

"I feel sorry for the people that do," Baldus said, "but, you know, fortunately we were fortunate enough to be able to move. No interruptions in business, just kept right on going."

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Still, a significant amount of water got around the city’s flood-protective berm near East Side Lake. Erichson said the city needs to determine what happened there. Crews pumped water and increased the berm’s height Thursday.

Near city hall, a long line of debris, including twigs and numerous plastic bottles, in a grassy boulevard showed the highest shoreline created Thursday by flooding on the Cedar River. The river continued to roar Friday morning through the nearby Fourth Avenue Northeast dam.

Larry Dolphin, director of the city’s Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, said the center likely sustained some damage from flooding by Dobbins Creek, which has north and south branches merging there. At one point early Thursday, the pedestrian bridge just south of visitors center was fully covered by the raging creek, he said.

"I didn’t even know if the bridge was still there," Dolphin said. The creek’s water level was easily the highest he has seen in his two decades at the nature center.

Dobbins Creek also caused flooding of Interstate 90 on Austin’s east side.

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