CEDAR FALLS - Flood control workers and volunteers were in a happy and congratulatory mood in downtown Cedar Falls early today as the raging Cedar River crested and the downtown levee system held.
The river crested at 102.12 feet at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, according to the figures at the city's flood incident command center. It was less than a projected crest of 103 feet, or 15 feet above flood stage. Flood waters had been projected to roll over the downtown dikes at that level, which had prompted a mandatory evacuation of downtown earlier in the day.
The river also is projected to crest in downtown Waterloo at about 6 a.m. at 25.9 feet, according to the National Weather Service, slightly less than earlier projections of 26 feet. It couldn't come too soon for merchants and flood control workers battling wet basements and flood water percolating out of storm sewers.
At 4:45 a.m. today, the Cedar River in Cedar Falls was at 101.8 feet, but city officials said the danger has not completely passed.
Susan Staudt, city attorney, said the downtown area will remain closed today and sandbagging will continue. Volunteers are still needed to show up at the UNI-Dome north parking lot to help with sandbagging efforts.
Staudt said thousands of volunteers showed up on Tuesday to help with sandbagging along the levee protecting downtown.
"Our volunteers saved this city, but we are still at a critical point," she said.
More volunteers are needed to help shore up the sandbag wall, which rises several feet above the levee.
"We had volunteers patrolling all night and there would be periodic points or bubbling and we'd have to go in and reinforce those areas," Staudt said.
Staudt said the main concern now is the weather. Thunderstorms were expected in Iowa on Wednesday and into Thursday.
"If we get more rain it can rise again. The levee and the ground is saturated and we want to make sure it doesn't give way," she said.
No pedestrian or bike traffic will be allowed downtown because of the heavy equipment that will be used down there and the danger surrounding the makeshift levy.
For downtown Cedar Falls merchants and volunteers who had been working feverishly around the clock to shore up the levee, the mood of caution and uncertainty was replaced with one of guarded relief.
"Thank God for the levee. Thank God for PCI. Thank God for the volunteers. Thank God our downtown is not under water," said local restaurateur Darin Beck. PCI, or Peterson Contractors Inc. of Reinbeck, a local construction contractor, played a key role in earth-moving efforts to shore up the levee.
Earlier in the evening, the prediction from the Advanced Hydrological Forecast Systems (AHFS) projected the Cedar River to crest at 102.8 feet in Cedar Falls, down slightly from a previous projected crest of 103 feet, sometime before 3 a.m., and 25.9 feet in Waterloo around sunrise or shortly thereafter, down from 26 feet projected earlier.
Mayor Jon Crews said, "We're going to keep going (sandbagging). We're not getting overly enthusiastic, saying it's over, but the dikes seem to be holding."
The lower crest projections came after stream levels were reported to be receding to the north.
The city of Cedar Falls had asked for a second wave of volunteers to fill sandbags downtown along the Cedar River.
"We're looking for volunteers to work through the night so we can address issues during the night, stockpile bags for issues that may arise and give people that have worked so hard today a break," said Dick McAlister, Cedar Falls director of administrative services.
Crews noted city crews and the Iowa National Guard rescued an estimated 50 people from flooded homes in northern Cedar Falls, in the Cedar City, Lincoln Street and North Cedar areas. He also noted about 80 individuals had taken advantage of a Red Cross shelter at the University of Northern Iowa West Gymnasium.
Crews praised the cooperation the city received from the university, numerous volunteers and schools for the school bus transportation to take volunteers to the downtown levee site.