This is what Cedar Rapids looked like on June 13 when the Cedar River crested at over 31 feet, a record. As the flood waters receded in this city of more than 125,000, they left behind an ugly residue. We returned to see how two civic institutions fared, during and after the flood, the library that was swamped, and a hospital that was temporarily evacuated.
At Mercy Medical Center, hundreds of volunteers spent the night sandbagging to prevent the water from overtaking the facility.
At the Cedar Rapids Public Library, staff moved materials like books and computers to higher ground in a last ditch effort to save them.
In spite of the Librarians feverish efforts, the library sustained the most damage of the two. Over half of its collection, nearly 200,000 items, was destroyed. As for this building, it will take millions of dollars and years of repair before a collection of books will live here again.
The Library’s first floor housed the adult collection…all but destroyed by the gushing flood waters.
Upstairs, the children’s collection was spared.
At the Library, the effort centered on saving books - knowledge and culture…at Mercy Medical Center, the focus was on saving lives.
When it appeared the river’s crest would impact Mercy, the news spread by word of mouth and through the local media.
The SOS call got results. Within minutes, hundreds of people arrived here to help Mercy prepare for the worst and hope for the best. But even with more than 50,000 sandbags laid, water poured into the basement where the hospital’s generators were housed. At that point, they knew they had to evacuate and quickly. And here’s just how high the water got outside the hospital.
During the night, nurses and medical staff safely evacuated 183 patients. It took nearly seven hours: moving patients and medical equipment through the halls, down the elevator and safely out of harm’s way.
Chad Ware, Program Coordinator, Mercy Emergency Department: “None of our patients were affected in any way. I mean granted we had to evacuate them but the way everybody came together. I mean if you, there's so many stories throughout this hospital of the different things people did and to have an opportunity to experience that and be part of that camaraderie throughout the hospital it was just, it was a tremendous experience.”
The spirit of camaraderie spread across hospitals. Fifty-two patients from Mercy were sent to nearby St. Luke’s Hospital. Others went to facilities in neighboring cities.
While St. Luke’s opened an additional medical unit to handle the increased patient count, about twelve Mercy nurses went to help at St. Luke’s. That hospital also found ways to cope with an emergency room volume that doubled overnight.
Ted Townsend, Pres. & CEO, St. Luke’s Hospital: “We added a triage area, an extra triage area up on third floor. Sort of a fast track area in one of our heart center areas and then we also worked with our construction company to bring on six additional exam rooms which were under renovation. And that allowed us to manage the capacity, the extra staffing, the extra room and everybody just pulling together.”
Additional help poured in from everywhere, including what was dubbed the “Big Relief from the Big Easy.” New Orleans medical staff knew all too well what Cedar Rapids was experiencing. These Katrina survivors came with donated items and some Cajun home cooking.
Ted Townsend, Pres. & CEO, St. Luke’s Hospital: “And before long they had an entire trailer full of relief supplies. They had raised thousands of dollars and they literally took time off their work to drive up to Cedar Rapids and bring those supplies to us and to bring just some good will. They brought Jambalaya and red beans and rice and they cooked for us and they cooked for the emergency room staff and they just had a party for us. They brought the New Orleans beads and literally they were just here to make us feel better but at the end of the day what they told us is it actually made them feel better because it was that first time that they could reach out and help somebody else.”
Within just 16 days after the flood waters subsided, Mercy Medical Center reopened its doors to patients.
Tim Charles, Pres. & CEO, Mercy Medical Center: “Had the community not shown up in the numbers that it did and assisted us literally through the night sandbagging and then later on the interior of the building helping to push water out of the facility, the damage done to Mercy would have been extraordinary. And in fact rather than being able to reopen services within 16 days, I suspect it could have been many months before we would have had services back on line.”
Once back inside, medical staff got to work immediately. The emergency room was temporarily moved to the first floor as renovations began.
Tim Charles, Pres. & CEO, Mercy Medical Center: “So over the next roughly 107 days from the, from the night of the flood we worked diligently with all of the contractors from the local community to reclaim the facility and to remodel it. We had a theme that we were operating with during this entire time which was we would rise above the flood better than ever and so what you're seeing around you in this space is an entirely reclaimed area.”
Mercy is back better than ever.
It will take the library longer.
Today the main library is located at Westdale Mall.
Marie DeVries, Cedar Rapids Public Library: “This branch has been here for at least a decade and so it was a natural for us to begin to operate from here because, because our branch was already here. “
The Library plans to expand further. It’s leased the old Osco Drug Store in Westdale Mall and is opening a third storefront for its technology center.
Rebuilding takes time and money. Fortunately, the Library has received an outpouring of support from individuals and businesses.
The Library continues to rebuild while Mercy Medical Center concludes renovations: one a safe harbor, the other a source of knowledge. Both remain pillars of the Cedar Rapids community.
Additional Images: KWWL-TV, Cedar Rapids Public Library, Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette copyright 2008, Mercy Medical Center, St. Luke’s Hospital