Flood of 2008: Cedar River Tower

Nov. 1, 2008
Facilities professionals at Cedar River Tower share their experiences and advice on disaster planning and recovery

One of the best views of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, IA, can be enjoyed from the 25-story office and residential tower nestled along its banks. Cedar River Tower - built in the early 1970s, and one of the city's few true high rises - was 100-percent occupied when floodwaters came rushing to (and then in to) its front doors in mid June. Although the river didn't damage any apartments (the 150 residences begin on Level 6, above the 1st-floor retail and multiple-story parking ramp), the offices and entryways sustained considerable devastation. But, the biggest challenge, according to Cedar River Tower Managers Duane and Vicky Hanus, was evacuating the largest residential building in the downtown area.

Waldo Morris, the building's owner (and Vicky Hanus' father), alerted Vicky Hanus to the impending flood on Monday, June 9, upon her return from a trip to Florida. The river's threat had not been highly publicized - yet.

Morris also runs a construction business, so bringing in a consultant to evaluate the potential menace to the structure was a matter of due diligence. "The engineer chalked around our building for the anticipated 22-foot flood levels that were predicted, determining that we would not be affected," says Vicky Hanus. "By Wednesday morning, June 11, however, we thought, ‘To heck with this,' and we started sandbagging; then, Wednesday afternoon, the city called for a mandatory evacuation."

The Hanuses immediately called all tenants - some were at work - to come home and pack up. "We called the utility company, too, since a number of the 200 residents at Cedar River Tower are elderly and had no place to go. They estimated that the electricity would be cut off Thursday night," says Vicky Hanus. "We continued helping people get out of the building until 9 p.m. on Wednesday, fully anticipating that we had time to assist the remaining occupants throughout much of the following day. Unfortunately, when we returned at 6 a.m. on Thursday, the electricity had already been shut down."

In a scene that somewhat resembled a brigade, management used flashlights, walked up many flights of stairs to remaining residents' apartments, and escorted each tenant down to waiting cars that took them to available shelters. "By the time we got the last people down the stairwell, we were walking through water in our lobby, but everyone got out," explain Duane and Vicky Hanus, noting the remarkable things that can happen when cooperation and a can-do attitude are employed.

Over the next several weeks, the Hanuses, Morris, and family, friends, and crew gutted the facility's lower and first levels; at press time, rebuilding was ongoing, with visible progress made every day. Although all of the furniture, equipment, and finishes in these areas were swept away or beyond repair, the apartments remained intact and safe. In late July, utilities, elevators, sprinkler systems, and smoke alarms were restored, and residents began returning to their homes - one of the first signs that downtown Cedar Rapids was coming back to life.

The Hanuses' advice to other apartment managers:

  • Sandbagging in such monumental circumstances may not be the best course of action: "I wish we could've devoted that time to moving furniture, equipment, and paperwork/files to upper floors," says Vicky Hanus.
  • Call again - and again and again - when you require answers, according to the tower's managers. Due to the influx of calls to various officials during such a catastrophe, it pays to be persistent. They both note: "That one last call may help get tenants back into the building earlier than would otherwise be the case."
  • "Don't wait for emergency services to recover your losses. We asked everybody we knew to help with the clean-up, and so much was accomplished during those first few critical days," notes Vicky Hanus.

More Flood Stories:

Cover Story - Lessons from the Flood of 2008

  1. Mercy Medical Center - By Jana J. Madsen
  2. Alliant Energy Tower - By Jenna M. Aker
  3. The University of Iowa - By Leah B. Garris
  4. City of Cedar Rapids - By Jenna M. Aker
  5. Guaranty Bank & Trust - By Linda K. Monroe
  6. Quaker Oats - By Jana J. Madsen
  7. Cedar River Tower - By Linda K. Monroe

Linda K. Monroe, former editorial director at Buildings magazine, is now an editorial advisor to the brand.

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