All quiet on the riverfront

"All quiet on the riverfront" Continued...

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

One of the houses Bay St. Louis residents cleared sits at 80 22nd Avenue SW in a 100-year-old, largely working-class neighborhood. Owner Leland Maynes, who does delivery and other work for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, lived there alone after his wife died 14 years ago. Many residents here bought their homes from first- and second-generation Czech immigrants, who came to Cedar Rapids in a wave beginning in the late 19th century to work in packinghouses or to set up businesses of their own. Maynes' two-story frame bungalow, like every other home that lines the street, is sooty with mold climbing up to its second-floor window. Foot tracks cross front porches still an inch deep in river silt. Sunflowers and other stray volunteers spring up in foot-high grass no one's thought to mow. At dusk 22nd Avenue is soundless and absolutely empty of people. Street lamps won't come on, as electricity to flooded neighborhoods is cut.

The floodwater came up seven feet into Maynes' main floor, he said, while some homes in the neighborhood saw water lines extend 2-3 feet into the second floor. Now gutted, the home sits like thousands of others, windows and doors propped open to the street, drying, waiting. The front door bears a yellow placard. Under a color-coded system instituted by the city, yellow means limited entry at one's own risk. As of late July over 4,000 structures had been issued yellow cards. Others on the street have purple cards, meaning they will be demolished, and a few have green cards indicating they are now safe for occupancy.

Maynes is living outside the city temporarily with a friend. "I am prepared to wait, " he said of his house, "but I might give it away." That kind of ambivalence is everywhere. "Will sell for $10,000," is spray-painted on one boarded-up house, but around the corner is a vacated automotive store with, "You loot I shoot."

And that's where the Lagniappe team comes in. They can speak to disaster-dazed residents from a future flood victims don't yet see. "My goal is that this is the beginning, for us and for them," said Norwood. Already she has assembled another team to return to Cedar Rapids in mid-October. They are prepared to continue cleanup but hoping that some skilled labor-and reconstruction-will be on the agenda, too.


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