CEDAR FALLS — As ice began to break apart and shove into houses along Cottage Row in Cedar Falls, resident Garret Grant sent a drone up Saturday to capture the extent of it.
What the drone’s camera came back with was shocking.
With the Cedar River at major flood stage and water already impacting Cottage Row homes, large ice sheets and debris shoved into yards, porches, outbuildings and up against houses Saturday.
Grant said the ice jams had so far spared his home. Cottage Row resident Jay Robertson wasn’t so lucky.
“We’re powerless,” Robertson said Monday. “It’s a matter of luck.”
He said those houses far enough from the Cedar, or sheltered by trees, were probably safe. Newly-remodeled ones on the river, like his, were built to withstand water — not ice. And he worries because he remembers an ice jam that took out a concrete pillar on a neighbor’s house in the early 1980s, tilting the entire structure into the rising Cedar.
“They are built above the 100-year flood level, and ostensibly safe from rising waters,” he said. “But there is nothing to protect them from 2,000-pound chunks of ice.”
Ice jams are caused by warming and rising waters, which causes river ice to float and break off of larger slabs, according to National Weather Service senior meteorologist Mindy Beerends.
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“As they run into bends in the river where water constricts, or structures like bridges, the ice will get piled up and all jam together,” Beerends said. “The river is not flowing and basically acts as a nature-made jam, and sometimes it floods.”
In and around residential areas, she said, “it can be more problematic.”
“Anytime you get something heavy floating in the water with force, it can cause damage,” Beerends added.
And there isn’t much anyone can do about it.
“Some places have tried to use explosives or excavators,” she said. But most of the time, “you’re at the will of the river.”
Major flooding is continuing for the Cedar River at Cedar Falls “until further notice,” according to the NWS bureau in Des Moines, which issued a continuing flood warning for the area.
The river crested at just under 95 feet in Cedar Falls on Monday morning, or around 6 feet above flood stage, and is now falling, according to the NWS. There was no timeline for when the river would go below flood stage in Cedar Falls.
The Cedar Falls levee was elevated recently and now can hold back water at a height of 104.9 feet, according to the City of Cedar Falls.
Free sand bags were available at the Bluff Street Complex at 16th and State streets, near the scrap metal bunkers on the east side of the facility. Flood clean-up kits were also available at Fire Station #2, at 722 West Lone Tree Road.
The city also said a curbside collection of damaged property for those impacted by flooding would begin Monday and go through April 5. Residents are asked to separate appliances, liquids, metal objects and furniture and use containers for sheet rock and small debris.
In Waterloo, minor flooding was occurring, with the Cedar River at 18.6 feet Monday morning, or 5.6 feet above flood stage, according to the NWS. It was forecast to fall below flood stage late Wednesday evening.
Other flood warnings in Northeast Iowa as of Monday:
- The Cedar River at Charles City was in a minor flood near 13 feet Monday, about a foot above flood stage. It was expected to fall below flood stage Tuesday afternoon.
- The Cedar River at Vinton was in a minor flood at 17.7 feet Monday, and an ice jam “remains in place” above the flood gauge, the NWS said. If the jam doesn’t break up, the river is expected to fall below flood stage Wednesday evening. If it does break up, the river could crest at 18.2 feet.
- The Iowa River near Tama was in a moderate flood at 13.2 feet Monday, or 0.7 feet above flood stage. It was expected to fall below flood stage Wednesday morning.
- The Wapsipinicon River at Independence was in a minor flood near 13 feet Monday, about a foot above flood stage, with ice activity impacting river levels. It was expected to fall below flood stage Tuesday.