Saturday, July 11, 2009

Czechin' Out Cedar Rapids

We're spending some time in Iowa, and although it wasn't in our original plans, a segment on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" (click to listen) about the 2008 Cedar Rapids flood piqued our interest, especially the story of Czech Village, a neighborhood that suffered an immense amount of damage. Last spring, the Cedar River, which runs through the center of town, reached what people are now calling the "500 year flood". Swollen by heavy winter snows, a wet spring, and torrential rains, the river became as large as the Mississippi, putting 10 square miles of Cedar Rapids underwater and cresting at over 31 feet above flood stage. 1000 businesses and over 5000 homes were affected by the flood, and a year later, an appalling amount of damage still exists.
One of the hardest-hit areas was the Czech Village neighborhood, an area that we were interested in visiting, since it was home to the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library. As a third-generation Czech from Northeast Ohio, I'm always interested in visiting places where there are Czech communities, and more importantly, Czech/Bohemian restaurants and bakeries. Our visit to the area was not what we expected, though. The museum, housed in a beautiful new building overlooking the river, was closed due to flood damage. We visited the temporary location in a mall where we learned that the building may never be reopened as a museum due to the inability to obtain insurance. Fortunately, most of the exhibits and archival documents were saved and plans are to relocate the museum to another building until government studies can determine if and where a flood wall can be constructed. So many people have been affected by this flood and driving through the streets of this blue-collar community, it is rare to see a home occupied. Most of the homes were in the $50-80K range, and many of the owners had no flood insurance which is the reason why so many have been abandoned. At first glance, many homes seem only slightly damaged, but looking closer shows how the water, reaching up to 10 feet above ground here, destroyed foundations and eroded the structures. The water line can be clearly seen on some houses like the one pictured. The main street of Czech Village is only half occupied now. What was a vibrant area of restaurants and stores is mostly quiet. A couple of restaurants remain, one, The Bohemian, is fairly new and offers authentic Czech food and bakery. We loaded up on Kolache, and had a great lunch of pork loin stuffed with sausage for me, chicken paprika for Brenda, and each sharing side dishes of red cabbage, sauerkraut, and dumplings. The neighborhood is rebuilding, but there's so much damage that it's doubtful that it will ever be the same. As you travel around the city of Cedar Rapids, you can see the damage throughout the areas along the river; this was primarily an area of moderate incomes and modest homes, and it appears that many families have left and will not return. Seeing the destruction and realizing the economic catastophe that families and the community have experienced make us thankful for what we have. Our hearts go out to these folks and we hope that their homes and lives can be restored.
Next stop - the Amana Colonies! Are they really renegade groups of appliances living together?
C'mon back and see!

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